Initiative to Protect and Restore West Maui Coral Reefs


September 14, 2012

A cost-sharing agreement between the federal and state governments was recently signed, which will involve a watershed plan for the West Maui “Ridge to Reef” Initiative. What exactly does that mean? Changes that could save a West Maui reef that is considered to be one of the most heavily impacted reefs in the state.

The initiative is specific to changes that will improve conditions for reefs, and includes management strategies to minimize human impact, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Honolulu. They will be contributing 75 percent of the funding, and the other 25 percent will be provided by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

The initiative includes a 24,000-acre West Maui Watershed study area that extends from Kaanapali to Honolua, and from the summit of Puu Kukui to the outer reef. This area includes the Wahikuli, Honokowai, Kahana, Honokahua and Honolua watersheds. The goal will be to reduce land-based pollutions that drain into the ocean where the reefs are located, often smothering and suffocating corals. Other threats include sedimentation caused by loss of forest land, historical agriculture practices, stream channelization and rapid development. The initiative will involve efforts to work with West Maui accommodations such as hotels, and to fix agricultural roads in Kaanapali.

Our coral reefs are an important piece of our heritage. A healthy marine ecosystem is crucial when you’re on an island. The ocean is a huge part of life for those of us who call West Maui home, or any part of Maui, for that matter. The reefs are also a major attraction for visitors, and therefore influence our economy in a direct way, and they are culturally important, with many species that are considered sacred to Native Hawaiians.

The Coral Reef Alliance, a nonprofit organization, is one of the groups working on the initiative. Their field Manager Liz Foote made a poignant statement on all of these developments. “It’s exciting that it’s officially launching. The fact that resources will be coordinated across county, state and federal agencies is significant and will facilitate the implementation of projects that reduce land-based pollution that harms our reefs. West Maui has lost about a quarter of its coral reefs over the past 13 years, and our community and economy can’t afford to lose more of our reefs.”

That about sums it up. Hopefully the future efforts undertaken as part of this initiative will be wildly successful with nothing but benefits for the environment, the economy, the culture, and the wonderful lifestyle on Maui.

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