My Viewpoint in the Maui News

Although most of my daily activities revolve around the day-to-day operations of Maui Dreams, occasionally I become involved with broader issues. For many years commercial operators within the ocean recreational activity industry on Maui have worked with Maui County to create a sustainable balance between public and commercial use of beach access. Some misunderstandings have occurred in the community regarding these issues, so I wrote this Viewpoint which was printed recently in The Maui News.

I have been fortunate in my life to have followed the path to become a teacher of scuba instructors. My job at Maui Dreams Dive Co. began 10 years ago, and I have loved every moment.

I have introduced hundreds, probably thousands, of people – locals and visitors alike –
to the magical beauty of Maui’s underwater world. I believe that without the exposure to the ocean that scuba diving provides, society would not appreciate the need to protect and safeguard our precious water world.

Yes, I make my living off the beauty of the resources. Life would be simpler if I could perform these services as a volunteer. However, my bill collectors insist that I pay for my food, water, power, rent, and everything else necessary for existence in this modern world. Consequently, I work for a living.

I am a commercial operator. I charge a fee for my time and services just as every other working person on Maui must do to survive. Many working citizens of Maui may not realize that their jobs are also dependent on the reefs, the beautiful views, the excellent climate and everything special about Maui. We’re all in this together.

Long before Maui County suggested it, the standards of our training methods included teaching understanding and respect for the reef environment. My employer, Donovan Domingo, is a co-founder of the Maui Reef Fund. This group of commercial operators organizes underwater cleanups and has removed thousands of pounds of fishing lines, lures, weights, plastic bags, bottles, cans, golf balls, etc., from the coral reef. Mr. Domingo was awarded the Living Reef Award for his continuing efforts with the Maui Reef Fund to establish and maintain moorings that alleviate the need for anchors and help keep the reefs safe.

I am surprised to read recent letters to the editor suggesting that current Maui County administrators are revolutionary in their plans to regulate commercial ocean activities. Our industry is heavily, and expensively, regulated by Maui County and has been for years. Anyone with knowledge of county government is well aware of this. They are also well aware that a moratorium on the issuance of commercial ocean activities permits has been in effect for years.

Our community has been led to believe that Maui County is having a rush of new, untrained, ill-equipped and uncaring commercial operators. This is not the truth.

The current Commercial Ocean Recreational Activity (CORA) regulations were well thought-out and have been effective in restricting commercial activities. To add further intensive restrictions as put forth by the Department of Parks and Recreation will place an undue burden on all commercial operators and cause many of them to go out of business.

With fewer commercial operators, the end result will be more unsupervised, untrained, ill-equipped and uncaring recreational users of Maui’s reefs. I hope the county will recognize that adding more restrictive regulations on commercial operators will not create healthier reefs.
I suggest we put our efforts toward re-establishing sustainable reefs by re-using our water instead of injecting it into the ocean, recreate natural wetlands to filter runoff properly and design and manage an effective watershed program.

* Teri Leonard is manager for Maui Dreams Dive Co. and a course director certified by the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI). She lives in Kihei.