CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Eric Co, Oahu marine coordinator for the Nature Conservancy, talked Friday about the problems that alien species have been causing at Maunalua Bay in Hawaii Kai.
Saving Maunalua Bay
A coalition of community volunteers and researchers works to restore part of the sea to its once pristine state
The thousands of people who enjoy Maunalua Bay's recreational resources probably don't realize it's in serious trouble, says a conservation expert.
"One of our first priorities is to help people pay attention to what's going on," said Eric Co, Oahu marine coordinator for the Nature Conservancy.
The conservancy is part of a collaboration of scientists, resource managers, state and federal agencies and private organizations working with Malama Maunalua, a community-based group trying to conserve and restore the deteriorating bay.
More than 60,000 people live in the Maunalua Bay region, extending from Koko Head to Diamond Head, according to Malama Maunalua, coordinated by Alyssa Miller.
The bay is heavily used for picnicking, boating, canoe paddling, kayaking, diving, surfing, fishing and other water activities. It was once rich with coral reefs and fish, but "much of that has changed over the past 50 years," Malama Maunalua notes.
Laura Thompson, describing the region's transformation from rural to urban development, displayed a picture of horses drinking fresh water on the ground in front of Niu, where her family lived.
"My dad took cattle there," she said.
All that fresh water now goes into the ocean, she said. "It is very sad."
The Maunalua Bay partnership has a chance to remedy the area's problems and build a model that can be used anywhere on the island, said Gerry Davis, assistant regional administrator in the Habitat Conservation Division for the Pacific Islands Regional Office, NOAA Fisheries Service.
"If we can get Mother Nature back at some level of normalcy, we have a tremendous opportunity to restore things," he said. "To me that's really exciting. We don't get that chance a lot."
Co, Thompson and Davis were among partnership participants discussing some of the issues at a workshop organized by SeaWeb and the Nature Conservancy in recognition of the International Year of the Reef.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A close-up view of gorilla ogo, an alien species found in the bay. Researchers are applying human medical testing to corals, looking at proteins they produce internally under stresses to try and understand the causes.
Speakers emphasized that land and water issues are interconnected, as recognized in the traditional Hawaiian ahupuaa mountain-to-sea land management system. But in the Western system, they said, land has encroached on the coastal ecosystem.
The researchers have installed instruments in the bay to characterize the watershed and study the impact of freshwater discharges, sediments and pollution.
Brian Hauk, aquatic invasive species team supervisor with the state Division of Aquatic Resources, described "pretty intense" invasions of alien species in the bay. Volunteers are organizing cleanups manually and with small, mechanical "supersuckers."
Makai Watch volunteers, coordinated by Lance "Mahi" La Pierre of Malama Maunalua, are collecting information on park, water and beach users and educating them about conservation practices. They are also working with state conservation law enforcement officers to identify illegal activities.
Because of the community effort at Maunalua Bay, the Army Corps of Engineers is re-evaluating its flood abatement and discharge system, said Robert Richmond, principal investigator, University of Hawaii Kewalo Marine Laboratory.
Nine sub-watersheds drain into Maunalua Bay, Richmond explained on a visit to the Kuliouou drainage channel. In rainy weather, huge volumes of water roar down the concrete channels like white-water rapids, dumping boulders, debris, pollutants and mud into the ocean, he pointed out.
Fresh water running into the ocean disrupts fertilization of the corals, and "this is going on in coastal zones throughout Hawaii," he said.
Richmond said he and Davis will speak at the annual Corps of Engineers meeting next month, discussing options to reduce the volume and velocity of channelized water. He suggests "putting meanders back in" -- structures to slow the velocity -- and breakout points to ponding basins to collect fresh water.
Davis said it takes water a long time to percolate down through wetlands in the natural system, but engineering is designed to get water off the land as fast as possible. "We should be saving every drop of this water," he added. "We're throwing it away."
Reefs and fauna are getting buried by sediments, which cover the ocean bottom with mud and bacteria like cellophane, Davis said: "No oxygen or air is going through it, and it's asphyxiating, smothering everything on the bottom."
Davis also noted a lot of old sewer systems capped on the beach. "If a pipe breaks, who knows what's in it?"
"Restoration starts with restoring conditions that allow natural reproduction," Richmond emphasized.
He said the researchers are applying human medical testing to corals, looking at proteins they produce internally under stresses to try and understand the causes.
For more information about Malama Maunalua, call 744-0052 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.