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West Maui Community Stories: Stewards of the bay

By Staff | Mar 13, 2014

Tamara Paltin and John Carty serve as president and vice president, respectively, of the Save Honolua Coalition.

WEST MAUI – It’s a bright Saturday morning. Lifeguard Tamara Paltin is at the watchtower at D.T. Fleming Beach. To her left are bright green golf courses. To her right, the rugged cliffs of Honolua Bay meet a fishbowl of azure waters. This scene could have been very different had it not been for a collaborative effort among dozens of volunteers, community groups, government agencies and non-profits, including the Save Honolua Coalition (SHC), of which Paltin is president and a founding member.

In January 2007, Maui Land & Pineapple Company Inc. (ML&P) submitted plans to develop 280 acres of prime real estate surrounding Honolua Bay, which included luxury homes, a golf course and a surf park. “For me, the development plan was a line in the sand,” says Paltin. “While it seemed like an impossible struggle, many of us felt like it was our kuleana (responsibility) to keep the area as open space.”

After years of countless community meetings, on-site activities to keep the bay top of mind and strategy sessions with political leaders and ML&P, their goal finally became reality.

In May 2013, Hawaii lawmakers allocated $20 million to purchase the land from ML&P, who in a show of support, sold the land for less than its final appraised value. Today’s plans call for a state park managed under a collaborative effort with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, Aha Moku Kaanapali, and SHC.

“This was a huge victory,” says Paltin, “but the harder battle is coming up.” While the area was spared from development, the bay’s natural resources are under threat from years of recreational use, inadequate facilities and pollution from land-based sources, among other stressors. “I’ll really celebrate when there’s no more brown-water runoff and when the reef is making a comeback,” she says.

John Carty, SHC’s vice president, agrees. “Now that the political work is over, the real work can begin – and that’s land management,” he says. “A proven model is already in place and it’s worked for hundreds of years.” He’s referring to the ahupua’a system, an ancient Hawaiian approach to resource management that recognizes the interconnectedness of the mountains, forests, streams and sea.

“We’re at a time now where most experts feel that if the diversion of Honolua Stream is removed, we can bring back the natural habitat,” says Carty. “But if we don’t act, it could get to the point of no return. We want to see the lifeblood of the ahupua’a restored.”

Paltin and Carty hope that the impact of the community’s efforts reach far beyond Honolua. “Through this victory, people from Hawaii should feel encouraged to take action not only on development issues, but other pressing concerns that are threatening our natural and cultural resources,” says Carty. “At Honolua, there’s a mana (power) that I’ve always tried to tune into. The spirit for the land touched my heart before the coalition started; now I know that I have a role to play.”

On Earth Day, April 19, 2014, join SHC in a community cleanup of Honolua Bay. As the date gets closer, go to savehonolua.org for more details.

“West Maui Community Stories” features the everyday people who make West Maui the unique place that it is. The series is a project of West Maui Kumuwai.

West Maui Kumuwai (WMK) is focused on reducing land-based sources of pollution that can harm our ocean. The campaign offers ways in which individuals can take action to curb these pollutants at home, in their yard or through community projects. WMK partners with retailers to highlight Ocean Preferred yard care products, as well as with landscapers who are committed to approaching yard care with the ocean in mind. By asking individuals and businesses to pledge their commitment, by supporting the work of community groups and non-profits, and by sharing the stories of everyday ocean heroes, WMK is committed to protecting our ocean and our unique West Maui way of life.

The collaborative effort is made up of Maui community members, individuals from non-profits, state and federal agencies, and local businesses. The campaign’s strategy is supported by the nonprofit SeaWeb Asia Pacific with funding provided by NOAA Coral. WMK also supports the efforts of the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative. To learn more, visit www.westmauikumuwai.org.