Sediment pollution from degraded landscapes is one of the most significant impacts to coastal ecosystems in Hawai‘i. Without appropriate water treatment, streams transport sediment, including pathogens and nutrients, from these degraded landscapes to the ocean. These pollutants cause widespread turbidity which deteriorates coral reefs and threatens essential fish habitat and the recovery of listed and managed species.
Wahikuli and Honokowai Streams in West Maui were recently confirmed by researchers as major sources of the sediment pollution that is reaching the ocean and impacting the priority reefs in the Kaʻanapali region. This project will reduce pollution from stream sediment in order to increase resilience of West Maui’s coral reefs while also benefiting local communities.
The reef tracts in the Kaʻanapali region are the most intact and most important source of larvae to priority coral reefs in West Maui and beyond. They also have the largest degree of partial mortality in the region, and the consensus among coral scientists is that these reefs are nearing a major tipping point as they are in danger of a phase shift to an algae-dominated ecosystem. In sum, Kaʻanapali’s reefs are poised on the edge of a precipice, and the time to act to reduce land based pollution threats is now. Therefore, reducing stream sediment pollution to coral reefs is an immediate priority.
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is determined to help combat the stream sediment pollution problem in West Maui to protect the area's coral reefs. We believe that Hawai‘i’s streams and gulches can be restored using a combination of modern best management practices and traditional Hawaiian land management techniques.
Throughout Hawai‘i, traditional agriculture, and specifically lo‘i kalo (terraced wetland taro fields) have played an important role within the traditional ahupuaʻa (watershed) system. Lo‘i (taro) provided a host of ecosystem services to native plants and animals while, at the same time, supported a large human population and contributed to vibrant and sustainable communities. By combining traditional knowledge with current science, the broad scale use of lo‘i kalo within a modern context can potentially provide a superior stream restoration solution.
While lo‘i kalo represent a powerful tool for restoring degraded landscapes, there is a rising interest in lo‘i kalo and other traditional food production systems as means to feed communities, support families, and restore the health of the watershed. Last year, Governor Ige made a commitment to double food production across Hawai‘i by 2030; lo‘i kalo and other forms of traditional agriculture have the potential to help Hawai‘i achieve this ambitious plan. Thus, expanded use of lo‘i has the potential to deliver a triple benefit of restoring coral reef health, improving food security and promoting Hawaiian culture.