Cleanup of Maunalua Bay has been great success


POSTED: Monday, May 03, 2010

These are exciting times for Maunalua Bay on Oahu's east shore. Facing adversity for decades due to sediment, depleted fish resource and an invasive alien algae called Avrainvillea amadelpha, better known as leather mudweed, Maunalua Bay is getting an environmental boost that is helping Hawaii's struggling economy.

And the efforts to save this cultural treasure have been noticed around the country.

On Earth Day April 22, President Barack Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, presented Malama Maunalua with an “;Environmental Heroes Award”; from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Of the 80 candidates nominated by NOAA for this special recognition, Malama Maunalua, a community-based nonprofit group, was one of only 10 organizations in the country to receive the award.

This past summer, NOAA announced The Nature Conservancy and Malama Maunalua's invasive algae-removal project would receive support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to create new jobs and ramp up the long-overdue restoration of Maunalua Bay.

It's taken more than a year for volunteers pulling once or twice a week to clear one acre of invasive algae. The crew of 50 workers from contractor Pono Pacific started pulling full time on March 15. They have already pulled more than 175 tons. By the end of the yearlong effort, Pono Pacific employees will have cleared 22 of the worst-infested acres in the bay of mudweed.

First spotted around 1981, Avrainvillea amadelpha has overgrown much of Maunalua Bay's once productive fisheries and shallow reefs. Mudweed now infests acres of reef flats, killing off coral and native seagrass meadows. It also traps mud and pollutants from the land and destroys the habitat necessary to maintain reef life.

But the efforts by volunteers and paid workers have helped turn the tide. The good news is the cleared areas have remained free of the algae, and there is growing evidence of the return of native species.

Through programs sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and Malama Maunalua, the bay has been turned into a virtual classroom for hundreds of students and community organizations. These volunteers learn that it's just not invasive algae that are hurting Maunalua Bay and other waterways throughout Hawaii. They learn the concept of “;every drop counts”;—that every drop of water that goes into a storm drain system ends up in the ocean—and that these drainage systems carry with them sediments and pollutants that feed the invasive algae and degrade the bay even further. They also learn that we need to ensure that our native plant-eating fish species such as uhu (parrotfish) thrive in the bay to keep the algae in check.

The goal is to return Maunalua Bay to the vibrant setting longtime residents remember: A bay filled with marine life free from invasive algae, pesticides and sediment runoff.

Alyssa Miller is the coordinator of Malama Maunalua.