The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) completed a watershed management plan for West Maui on Feb. 13, outlining actions the government, private sector and community can do to lower pollutant damage to corals. More than a quarter of these living corals along the Ka’anapali coast have been lost in the last 13 years, damaging a reef rich with social, cultural, economic and ecological value.
The plan focuses on the Wahikuli-Honokawai Watershed, and is the first of its kind to comprehensively address how runoff is affecting the reef’s health. The plan identifies pesticide and fertilizer runoff, eroding roads and fields, injection wells, and untreated stormwater among top pollutant sources.
“A big part of the problem is what is flowing off the land into the sea,” said Kathy Chaston, the project manager with NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. “Our team looked ‘mauka’–inland–to identify major pollutant types and their sources, and then developed actions to reduce them.”
Hawaii’s reefs have been estimated to be worth as much as $364 million a year to the state’s economy, while being hotspots of marine biodiversity, fishing, recreation and tourism. Plus, they’re beautiful. In Hawaii and Polynesia especially, coral reefs are also of great cultural significance.
“Everyone has a role to play in reviving West Maui reefs,” Tova Callender, West Maui Watershed and Coastal Management coordinator, stressed. “Simple actions like conserving water, not pouring chemicals down the drain, and keeping debris and soil out of storm drains, can reduce the pollutants flowing into the sea and help our coral reefs.”
She added that “community grants will also soon be available to help grassroots efforts such as planting rain gardens.”
And there’s the rub. The plan offers and outlines voluntary action steps, and also conveniently gives a priority list with price tags included. Implementation costs vary, from a $3,000 fertilizer management plan to tens of millions of dollars to increase production and reuse of treated water, though most projects are estimated around $50-300 thousand dollars. In the age of budget cuts, who pays?
The plan gives some suggestions, and maintains the practicality of implementation through partnership with the community. Several activities are planned for this year beginning with a workshop to design and install a rain garden at Wahikuli Wayside Park in March. Agricultural road improvements, gulch stabilization and post-fire rehabilitation planning, among other projects, will also begin this year with funding from Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources and the state Department of Health.
“Our goal is to implement the priority projects within five years,” Chaston said.