Saturday, July 14, 2001

Researcher Jennifer Smith displays the green seaweed that
is plaguing a section of the coastline in West Maui.
Residents and visitors have complained about the foul
odor and murky diving conditions.

Green algae bloom
hurting Maui resorts

Seaweed covers beaches and
gives off a foul smell

By Gary T. Kubota

KAHANA, Maui >> Kahana Village resort manager Vicki Betts said several visitors have cut their stays short because of piles of green algae and the foul odor on the beach, despite continuing efforts to clear the seaweed.

"We have the beach cleaned six days a week because our clients have complained of the smell," Betts said.

Along a 6-mile stretch of shoreline from Kaanapali to Kapalua, a number of resort businesses are finding the algae bloom is affecting revenues, with estimated losses ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent.

"We've had quite a few check out," said Mindy Miller, whose Chase 'n Rainbow Real Estate manages 180 rental units in West Maui. Miller said the losses were probably higher than 10 percent.

Kapalua Dive Co. owner Kevin McAfee said he has lost money from people who initially bought dive packages and decided to back out of the contract after the first day of diving.

"I can't argue with them. The conditions are poor," said McAfee, who estimated he is losing 5 percent to 10 percent of his revenue because of the seaweed bloom.

John Roche, the assistant general manager for Embassy Vacation Resorts Kaanapali, estimated the hotel has seen a 5 percent to 10 percent decrease in lunch and beach business from guests going elsewhere for activities during the day.

Vacation resort officials say they are more afraid of the long-term impact on tourist bookings.

"I've heard people say they're not likely to come here again," said Rodney Kelly, the general manager of the Napili Point Resort.

Joseph Pluta, president of the West Maui Taxpayers Association, said his group was 100 percent behind the state and county taking action to solve the problem.

"Economically, this could really hurt us," Pluta said.

The return of an algae bloom, the last occurring 10 years ago, has prompted the county to offer a daily weekday pickup service for bags of seaweed and the state to research the cause of the abnormal growth.

The bags of seaweed are dried and sent to the county landfill, where a company uses it for compost.

State aquatics biologist Skippy Hau said the bloom is mainly concentrated within a couple of hundred yards offshore from Black Rock at Kaanapali to Kapalua.

Beach conditions vary from one resort to the next, with several managers saying the seaweed has not created a problem along their shoreline, and others, mainly in Kahana and Napili, saying the odor is as foul as the smell of sewage.

Researchers diving this week at Kahekili Park north of the Kaanapali resort found the seaweed to a depth of 100 feet and an abundance of it in waters about 30 feet deep.

Researcher Jennifer Smith said that in addition to smothering sections of the seabed, some coral heads have been damaged from the whipping effect of the algae in rough water.

Smith and other researchers have been taking samples of the seaweed and conducting scientific tests to determine the cause of the bloom.

Research coordinator Celia Smith, a University of Hawaii botany professor, said a goal is to identify the nutrients responsible for the bloom.

Smith said the algae Cladophora sericea is native to the Hawaiian Islands and apparently has found a way to dominate the ecosystem.

"It's really quite remarkable," she said. "The coast of Maui has hundreds of limu species, and only one of them is blooming in this way."

Smith said the $10,000 research study is being funded by Sea Grant, the University of Hawaii's College of Natural Sciences, and the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative.

Smith said further study will probably be needed, and the total cost may be a little more than $210,000.

Scientists spent close to $2 million in federal funds in the early 1990s in an attempt to identify the cause of the cladophora bloom in West Maui waters and to implement measures to reduce its likelihood in the future.

Wendy Wiltse, who led the West Maui Watershed study team, said the cause was never determined because the research began in 1993, too late to examine the major blooms in 1989 and 1991.

Wiltse said the study did find that a major source of nutrients along the West Maui shoreline came from ground water seeping into the ocean.

She said the nutrients were high in fertilizers from agriculture and landscaping and from some cesspools and septic tanks.

As an outgrowth of the previous study, state health officials have been working with Maui hotels and landscapers on a pollution prevention program.

She said a major lesson to be learned from the previous study is the need for funds to be immediately available when there is an algae bloom, such as now.

"We're lucky this summer that there are some researchers from UH that are able to respond," she said.

Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana said the county is planning to spend $100,000 to buy a machine to clear the seaweed off sandy beaches.

But he indicated the machine will not work as well on rocky shorelines.

Apana said his administration had hoped to obtain $150,000 to buy a barge and sand pumper to replenish rocky and eroded beaches, but the request was turned down by the County Council.

He said replenishing the rocky shoreline with sand would have made seaweed removal easier.

Apana said the county was continuing to talk with residents and businesses to find solutions to the algae problem.

At Kahana Village, the solution has been back-breaking work for several people who use pitchforks to gather the algae from the beach.

Betts said as many as 600 bags of algae have been removed from the property in a single day.

In the summer heat and protected from ocean currents, the once-blue cove fronting the beach has become pea green with algae.

Betts said the resort plans to continue the cleanup because those staying there want to see some effort to solve the problem.

"We're giving it our best shot," she said.

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