Needs Assessment: Hawaiian Monk Seal Outreach and Education Programming for the Hawai'i Visitor Community
Kane, Jennifer M.K.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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Nearly 200,000 visitors arrive in Hawai`i each day, around eight million per year. Each new visitor that steps foot on the islands will have little, if any, knowledge of the Hawaiian monk seal, but some will encounter them when they unknowingly flock to the same beaches that these endangered seals call home. Seeing one of these rare animals in the wild is a special experience, but approaching too closely or otherwise disturbing them can have multiple consequences affecting both humans and seals. Behaving responsibly around these critically endangered seals is important to their long-term survival and for human safety; however NOAA Fisheries cannot educate the visitor population to this end on their own. Any educational programs that will reach the large and diverse Hawai`i visitor population must be strategic and include research-based methods. This needs assessment research project aimed to answer the question, “How can NOAA Fisheries improve its education programming to create a visitor community that is aware of Hawaiian monk seals and exhibits stewardship behaviors when encountering them?” Data was collected in the form of interviews with key informants from the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Response Network (MMRN); organizations that conduct marine-related education programs; commercial tour and lodging operators; and visitor bureau staff. The analysis of these interviews and a review of literature on best educational practices for nonformal audiences pointed to several gaps in Hawaiian monk seal education geared to the visitor target audience and informed the author’s recommendations to resolve these gaps.