Speaking For Whales And Kaua‘i

A Koloa diver and boat captain is named to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary advisory board

Koloa resident George Thompson recently was selected to serve as one of eight new primary members of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s advisory council. During his two-year commitment on the council, Thompson will act as a liaison between the Kaua’i community and the sanctuary.

His job, he says, entails listening to the concerns of Garden Isle residents and relaying the input and recommendations he obtains to “give management as much help as I can to minimize any impact that they might have.”

The second part of his duties is to take any information he receives from the sanctuary and communicate it to the public, “so there’s not a lot of misinformation going around.”

Thompson will attend his first meeting with the sanctuary this week on Oahu.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is managed by a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Hawaii. The organization is responsible for helping protect endangered humpback whales that migrate to the Islands from December to May to mate, give birth and take care of their young.

There are a number of sanctuaries around the country, but the sanctuary is unique in that it holds a partnership between federal and state governments, meaning all regulations must pass at the state-level first.

“So the state plays an important part in the management of the sanctuary,” says Thompson.

It is also one of the only species-specific sanctuaries. However, that may change according to recent proposals of the management plan to become more ecosystem-oriented. A proposed draft of a new plan is slated to be released this year. Currently, there are no established regulations administered by the sanctuary, aside from approaching whales too closely, which is actually mandated by federal law.

The sanctuary can propose laws, but it must be accepted by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which would serve as the enforcing agent. The advisory council, comprised of 53 representatives, plays a significant part of this process by conveying advice and counsel on protecting the sanctuary and making sure all voices are heard. The council consists of members from all walks of life, including representatives from the fishing and tourism industries.

Thompson admits the application process was quite thorough. Not only did he need to submit a resume, he had to answer questions as to why he was interested in acquiring the entirely voluntary post.

One of the reasons he believes he landed the position is his ability to communicate effectively.

“I’m good at getting information across. I’m good at getting people to understand other points of view,” he says. “My goal is to be open and honest with everything that I can.”

The owner of Fathom Five Divers has lived on Kaua’i some 30 years and understands how much even minor changes can potentially impact individuals.

“And I want to help make that as positive a thing as we possibly can for everybody that’s involved,” says Thompson, who has served on other advisory councils in the past including through DLNR.

“The people here are friendly, beautiful and warm. And I’ve had nothing but great experiences with the people who live here, so I want to be a part of that and give back to the community and try to do the best job I can to help represent us to the government.”

Another main motivating factor in applying to the job is his love for the ocean. The diving instructor and boat captain has been in the industry since he was 16 and has seen limited resources vanish and a “massive amount of change” occur to the detriment of the ocean environment.

“The ocean is an amazing system that is truly one of the most misunderstood ecosystems out there,” he says.

Thompson has encountered humpbacks on many occasions while at sea, and says they are “incredible creatures.”

“I can’t even begin to describe how phenomenal it is to see a whale underwater,” he says. “It is amazing. They are graceful, beautiful, gentle. There isn’t a creature that I’ve seen in the ocean that I’ve ever been afraid of and there isn’t one that I haven’t absolutely been in awe of.”

Thompson, whose alternate council member is Nina Monasevitch, is honored to be the Kaua’i representative.

“It really is an awesome way to help make a difference in what’s going on,” he says. “It’s really important that somebody who takes that position is open and honest and understands the problems people will face if they are negatively impacted by rules and regulations and things of that nature.”

For more information visit hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov or contact Thompson at gthompson.noaasac@gmail.com.