KAANAPALI - Nearly one-quarter of all living corals in West Maui along the Kaanapali coast have been lost in the last 13 years. To help fight this decline, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week unveiled a voluntary, comprehensive management plan to combat pollutant damage to these reefs.
The Wahikuli-Honokowai Watershed Management Plan includes actions government, the private sector and community members can take to help reverse the trend.
Drawing on input from community meetings and public comments, the plan was developed by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.
It focuses on the Wahikuli and Honokowai watersheds - areas that are similar to traditional Hawaiian land divisions called ahupua'a.
This plan is the first in the State of Hawaii to comprehensively address how runoff is affecting reef health.
"A big part of the problem is what is flowing off the land into the sea," said Kathy Chaston, project manager with NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.
"Our team looked mauka, inland, to identify major pollutant types and their sources, and then developed actions to reduce them."
The management plan summarizes the current and proposed future environmental conditions of the Wahikuli and Honokowai watersheds.
It identifies eroding agricultural roads and fields, injection well effluent and untreated stormwater among the top pollution sources.
Available for download at www.kaanapaliwmp.com, the plan also outlines strategies for managing the top pollutants in the Wahikuli and Honokowai watersheds that can be achieved through partnerships between government, landowners and the community.
Tova Callender, West Maui Watershed and Coastal Management coordinator, stressed that everyone has a role to play in reviving West Maui reefs.
"Simple actions like conserving water, not pouring chemicals down the drain and keeping debris and soil out of storm drains can reduce the pollutants flowing into the sea and help our coral reefs," Callender said.
"Community grants will also soon be available to help grassroots efforts such as planting rain gardens."
Several activities are planned for this year, beginning with a workshop to design and install a rain garden at Wahikuli Wayside Park in March.
Agricultural road improvements, gulch stabilization and post-fire rehabilitation planning, among other projects, will also begin this year with funding from Hawaii's Division of Aquatic Resources and the state Department of Health.
"Our goal is to implement the priority projects within five years," Chaston said.
Hawaii coral reefs provide social, cultural, economic and ecological services estimated to be worth as much as $364 million each year to the state's economy, according to a 2004 study in the journal Pacific Science.
According to NOAA, healthy coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on Earth, providing valuable and vital ecosystem services.
Coral ecosystems are a source of food for millions; protect coastlines from storms and erosion; provide habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for economically important fish species; provide jobs and income to local economies from fishing, recreation and tourism; are a source of new medicines; and are hotspots of marine biodiversity.