CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kailua High School students Hiwalani Naki and Chelsea Oden spread mulch on rocks overlooking Kawainui Marsh as part of a service learning project at Na Pohaku o Hauwahine.
The rebirth of Kawainui Marsh
With a recent city-state agreement on flood control and ownership at Kailua's Kawainui Marsh, the state's largest natural wetland is on the verge of a rebirth.
Individuals, school groups, community and Hawaiian cultural groups, and natural resources managers are poised to proceed with improvements.
Habitat restoration to attract more endangered water birds back to the marsh has begun and will expand in the next five years.
Hawaiian cultural groups have been planting native plants and educating the public about the history of the marsh.
A festival Saturday at the marsh's Ulupo Heiau is one way to learn more about the natural, cultural and historical role the marsh has played in Kailua.
When Charles "Doc" Burrows stands on a rock outcropping overlooking Kailua's Kawainui Marsh, he envisions the past.
Friends of the marsh
Groups that work to protect and enhance Kawainui Marsh include 'Ahahui Malama I Ka Lokahi, Kailua Hawaiian Civic Club, the Kawai Nui Heritage Foundation, Ameron Hawaii, Hawaii Audubon Society, Hawaii's Thousand Friends, Kailua Historical Society and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, state parks and forestry and wildlife divisions.
The community groups have volunteer opportunities at least three times a month and periodically offer educational tours. For more information, contact 'Ahahui Malama I Ka Lokahi at 593-0112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DLNR's Oahu wildlife manager, David Smith, who manages state work at the marsh, can be reached at 973-9786.
Party at the marsh
Ulupo Heiau Ho'ike, a free cultural and educational event, will be held 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Ulupo Heiau State Historical Park and the Windward YMCA on Kailua Road.
There will be free cultural demonstrations, hula, Hawaiian music, educational exhibits and Hawaiian food available for donations at 11:30 a.m., including imu pig, turkey and chicken, laulau, kalo, ulala and ulu.
Sponsors are Kailua Hawaiian Civic Club, 'Ahahui Malama I Ka Lokahi, Hawaii State Parks and the Windward YMCA. Parking available at Faith Baptist and Kailua Methodist churches.
More information, see www.kailuahawaiiancivicclub.com.
Hundreds of years ago this was the "breadbasket" of Oahu, with fields of taro and a huge aquaculture fishpond, said the retired Kamehameha Schools science teacher, adding, "This was a very rich food-producing area."
Burrows also sees the area's future, when the historical, natural and cultural resources of the marsh "are restored to their full potential."
An agreement reached in April resolved a long-standing city-state dispute over flood control at the marsh. Then the Legislature approved the marsh's first permanent state funding: $920,000 to maintain and enhance Kawainui for the next two years.
Gov. Linda Lingle is expected to sign the bill providing the funding in a June 30 ceremony at the marsh.
The recent action has "broken the dam," ending an impasse and allowing the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to reapply for $4.1 million in Army Corps of Engineers funds to establish shallow ponds that will attract more native birds, said Sen. Jill Tokuda (D, Kaneohe-Kailua), who helped broker the deal.
After that the possibilities are many. A 1994 state Department of Land and Natural Resources master plan proposes:
» A visitor center to explain the area's history, cultural significance and natural environment, probably on Kapaa Quarry Road. Hawaiian archaeological sites include three heiau, an adz quarry and many stone structures.
» Two small "passive" parks with parking, picnic tables and grassy areas on the Mokapu Boulevard and Kailua Road sides of the marsh.
» Areas to grow taro and other traditional Hawaiian food crops, plus ceremonial and medicinal plants. These are already under way, thanks to volunteer efforts.
» A trail circling the 830-acre marsh, with observation areas to watch abundant bird life that includes four endangered species. An enhanced habitat is expected to attract many more endangered birds.
Among the endangered bird species of the marsh: as many as six Hawaiian stilts (ae'o kukuluao), perhaps 20 Hawaiian coots (alae ke'oke'o), 24 Hawaiian gallinules ('alae 'ula) and hybrid ducks that are part Hawaiian duck (koloa maoli).
"There's a huge amount of potential out there" to increase endangered bird counts, Dave Smith, Oahu wildlife manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife,*
He points to Hamakua Marsh, a 20-acre parcel on Hamakua Drive in Kailua. Since 2000, and with $400,000 in grants, the formerly overgrown marsh has been restored to the open wetland the endangered birds like, and their numbers have skyrocketed.
Smith said he is confident Kawainui Marsh will have a similar future.
He recently garnered almost $1 million in grants from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and National Resource Conservation Service to improve bird habitat.
When Smith's work hits high gear -- as he hopes it will after he hires a biologist and two technicians to focus on Kawainui -- people will start to notice the changes, he predicts, as they did with Hamakua Marsh.
Meanwhile, volunteers under the cooperative banner of Ho'olaulima Ia Kawai Nui have done much native plant restoration work at the Ulupo Heiau, the small state park between the Windward YMCA and the marsh, and at the Na Pohaku O Hauwahine outcropping. Compared with a decade ago, the two locations are lush with native plants.
Helpers come from Oahu public and private schools, the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua, Oahu residents and even out of state. Burrows estimates hundreds, if not thousands, of people have helped over the years.
There is some potential for conflict between different visions for Kawainui. That is why Tokuda plans to introduce legislation next year setting up a community advisory panel to work formally with the DLNR as restoration proceeds, she said.
"We want to make sure the vision for this area is set by the community, make sure they're included," Tokuda said. "It's an investment for our future, not something that's going to end in our lifetimes."
Kailua High School freshmen on a recent community service field day said working in the marsh helped them connect with their town's history, Hawaiian culture and with nature.
"I never knew this was here," said freshman Logan Tamayo, wiping away sweat after pushing wheelbarrows of mulch to the top of the Na Pohaku outcropping under Burrows' direction.
"All these good people with all good intentions are all working on different subsets of things within the marsh," Smith said. "It all fits together."
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
» Dave Smith is Oahu wildlife manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife. His first name and title was omitted from a Page A6 article on Kawainui Marsh yesterday.