SF Gate | April 12, 2022
By Joshua Bote
A century ago, Hawaii‘s Mala Wharf was built as a landing dock for steamships transporting pineapples and sugarcane off the island. (It was ultimately unsuccessful for this purpose, with too-strong currents impeding its landing.) But after its World War II heyday, the Maui harbor entered a state of disrepair — and eventually, it was decimated by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
In those three decades, the harbor has become an uber-popular tourist destination in Hawaii, billed as a prime snorkeling and diving spot. And residents, according to a KITV report published April 7, are displeased by just how crowded the area has become with tourists — driven in large part by social media and the internet at large. (After all, nearly the entire first page of the Google search for Mala Wharf is tourist and diver websites.)
Now, a coalition of Maui residents is suing the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, KITV reports, saying that it has not sufficiently regulated the level of commercial activities on Mala Wharf. Sixteen companies have been granted commercial permits, the station reports, but it is believed that many other unregistered companies host boat tours, snorkel and dive programs and other underwater adventures by the pier.
And as a result, Native Hawaiians and residents are being shut out of the area.
“ … They’re basically given a permit, and then they have free rein on what to do down there,” attorney Christina Lizzi told KITV. “One of the problems here is that the agency is issuing these permits, without really looking at all the laws it’s supposed to when it does.”
One of the clients Lizzi represents, Tiare Lawrence, is a Maui native who says that the sheer volume of crowds has prohibited her and her family from taking part in Hawaiian customs like fishing and canoeing.
“We’ve had situations where we’ll launch our canoes, we don’t have trailer parking because all the commercial operators consume all of the trailer parking,” Lawrence told the station.
KITV reports that two appeals are ongoing, and a final ruling should come by June.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources declined to comment to SFGATE, citing pending litigation.