Saturday, October 27, 2001

Algae bloom disappears in
most parts of West Maui

By Gary T. Kubota

LAHAINA >> The algae bloom that caused some Valley Isle businesses to lose from 5 percent to 10 percent of their revenues this summer has virtually disappeared in most parts of West Maui, according to residents and divers.

"It's still in some places but not in abundance," said state aquatic biologist Skippy Hau, who surveyed the growth last weekend. "You don't have people complaining."

At its peak during the summer, columns of green algae appeared from the shoreline down to depths of 100 feet and occupied some sections of coastal water from Black Rock in Kaanapali to Kapalua.

Residents and visitors complained about the foul odor and murky diving conditions. Kahana Village resort manager Vicki Betts said the high surf in August washed the algae away from waters fronting her beach.

"We haven't had a problem since," said Betts, whose resort at one time was paying workers to carry off hundreds of bags of seaweed in a single day.

Kapalua Dive Co. owner Kevin McAfee, whose company refunded money during the summer to some clients said the diving conditions have been good and he hasn't had any problems recently.

"The algae's basically gone," McAfee said. "It appears to have died off on the reef."

Scientists who have been studying the phenomena say they haven't identified what makes the algae, known as "Cladophora sericea," bloom in such abundance or decrease as quickly as it has in the last couple of months.

University of Hawaii researcher Jennifer Smith said scientists have only observed the algae bloom midway through its growth and at the end of its cycle. Smith said researchers want to observe the algae as it begins its cycle of bloom sometime in April.

Smith said based on preliminary laboratory tests, no one nutrient seems to stimulate the algae growth.

"It seems to be the interaction of many nutrients -- a little bit of everything," she said. "It's still too early to put all the pieces together."

Smith said while something has changed to make the algae to disappear, she doesn't believe the cause is the wave action. She said if the wave action alone cleared the algae, she would have seen algae growing in areas protected from the waves. But she found the algae had also disappeared from the wave-protected areas.

Joseph Pluta, president of the West Maui Taxpayers Association, said the recurrence of the algae bloom and the lack of measures to control it threaten to reduce tourism and decrease property values in some areas along West Maui.

"People see that and see it again and say we don't want to go back to that spot," he said.

Pluta said his group supports a proposal by Mayor James Apana to spend $150,000 in the next county budget for a sand-pumping barge to build sandy shorelines on Maui.

Apana officials say they want to use a machine to clear algae from beaches and the cleanup would be easier if the shoreline was sandy.

Before this year, the last major algae bloom severely affecting West Maui occurred between 1989 and 1991. McAfee said he doesn't know if the algae bloom will occur next year as it did this year but he's fairly certain the "cycle will come again."

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