Maui News

NOAA announces $17M for infrastructure improvements at Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary 

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NOAA is investing $17 million from the Inflation Reduction Act in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to improve the climate resilience of the Kīhei, Maui visitor and community center. The facility’s beachfront location makes it vulnerable to climate change impacts, including upland flooding, powerful storms and sand inundation. (Image credit: NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will invest $17 million from the Inflation Reduction Act in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to improve the climate resilience of the Kīhei, Maui visitor and community center. 

The sanctuary’s flagship property includes a shoreline building in Kīhei, Maui. “Like much of Kīhei, the facility is threatened by climate change impacts, including upland flooding and powerful storms. Its beachfront location also makes it particularly susceptible to sand inundation,” according to NOAA.

“NOAA’s national marine sanctuaries facilities are a gateway to our greatest underwater treasures — and key to maintaining them,” said US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a news release announcement. “This investment, part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, will help make NOAA’s facilities at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary more resistant to the effects of climate change.”


Funding will be used to mitigate these threats, increase resilience in the facility, and ensure greater safety for staff, visitors and critical sanctuary assets. Funds will also support construction of a boathouse for the sanctuary’s 38-foot boat Koholā that is used for large whale research and entanglement response.

“Our visitor center is an ideal spot to learn about the marine environment and see humpback whales breaching during whale season every November to April,” said Kim Hum, sanctuary superintendent. “The scenic beachfront location at the foot of Haleakalā has views of Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi and West Maui looking across the waters of the sanctuary, which extend from the shoreline down to 600 feet deep.” 

The Kīhei visitor center opened in 1996 and was one of the first in the National Marine Sanctuary system. Since its opening, the facility has primarily been staffed by volunteers. The center has had a few updates to interior exhibits over the years, with a recent grand reopening in January 2023. It now features new exhibits, interactive displays and weekly public programs.


Designated in 1992, the 1,370-square mile Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is managed through a partnership between NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources. The sanctuary works to protect humpback whales and their habitat through research, education, conservation and stewardship.

The sanctuary is part of America’s National Marine Sanctuary system, a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. The network includes a system of 15 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments. 

These investments are part of a $3.3 billion total investment from the Inflation Reduction Act that is enabling NOAA to build on its commitment to help Americans — including tribes and vulnerable populations — prepare, adapt and build resilience to weather and climate events; improve supercomputing capacity and research on weather, oceans and climate; strengthen NOAA’s hurricane hunter aircraft and fleet; and replace aging NOAA facilities.

A nearly $50 million investment from the Inflation Reduction Act will go towards infrastructure improvements for facilities at six national marine sanctuaries across the country. From top left to right, clockwise: Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank, Mallows Bay-Potomac River, Stellwagen Bank, Olympic Coast, Monterey Bay and Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuaries. Credit: NOAA.

“This investment in the future of national marine sanctuaries could not have come at a better time as many of our sanctuaries have a backlog of infrastructure and deferred maintenance projects,” said John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “This funding will improve access at facilities across the country, enhance climate resilience, and help us create a sense of shared stewardship for America’s most iconic natural and cultural marine resources.”


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