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Top environmental firm to study West Maui’s reefs

By Staff | Jun 19, 2014

WEST MAUI – An environmental services firm this summer will inspect West Maui reefs, assess factors that allow a reef to bounce back and identify stressors that lead to weakness and reef loss.

WHALE Environmental Services LLC (WES) is conducting this Identifying and Preserving the Resiliency of the West Maui Coral Reefs study for the state Department of Land & Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR).

Project Manager Mark Howland said the research team will look at 50 or so reefs from Ukumehame to Honolua over a four- to six-month period.

“The work is intended to be a bridge between future studies of all reefs in Hawaii and past studies,” said Howland.

In the past, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and DAR have done more general, overall studies of reef health.

“This pilot study is intended to get down to a segment level, which will allow a better representation of individual reefs rather than a broad overview,” he explained.

Howland and his wife, Bonnie, enjoy spending time in West Maui and have worked on projects here, including researching the impacts of stressors on the coastline at Old Airport Beach in 1996-97 and Napilihau in 2003.

The contract for the study totals $18,795. WES is donating an estimated $18,995 in services for the project.

During the field work, the couple will drift up and down the coast looking for reef stressors.

Dive teams will be in the water on the reefs looking for damage and assessing the overall health of the reefs and their ability to withstand environmental impacts.

Another objective of the work is to assess factors that allow a reef to gain resiliency, such as coral cover and density, fish abundance, habitat recruitment, disease indicators and substrate availability.

“It literally is as simple as that – what is being done wrong, what impact it has, and later, what can be done,” Mark explained.

Along with identifying factors that are harming West Side reefs, WES will offer potential solutions.

“The Hawaiian phrase ‘Ho oka ika `il u like ana (Wield the paddles together)’ means all have the need to cooperate and work together in harmony, as ancient paddlers have done,” Mark commented.

“By giving a realistic look at an individual reef, we can see how Puamana reef off Lahaina, for example, has about 10 percent of the health than it did 20 years ago,” he continued.

“We aim to find out what stressors caused the decline, and what recommendations can be given to restore/protect/enhance. The community can then put pressure on its elected officials, resource managers and others to treat the resources in the correct manner. With all parties working together, reefs will not be facing a dismal future.”

This summer’s study will also involve consulting with other reviewers of West Maui’s reefs, examining past documentation, summarizing past assessments and conducting interviews in the community to learn new information on West Maui’s reefs.

To serve as an educational resource, the project includes creating pass-out cut sheets for public distribution and developing interactive maps of the study zones.

Mark said, “We are big believers in ‘A`ohehua o kamai’aikalaho’okaahi (When a task is done together, no task is too big).’ We are prepared to deliver a study of great value – not only gain an in-depth look at the reefs’ health conditions, but also to try and answer the question of ‘what is the cause?’ “

Kahuku-based WHALE Environmental Services LLC (www.whalees.com) is one of the country’s leading experts on stormwater mitigation and erosion control.

WES personnel have won EPA awards for both erosion control and stormwater mitigation.

“In Hawaii, in pollution mitigation, it is important to understand the ecological values of the past to determine how man and nature interacts in the future,” Mark noted.

“Our services are designed to assist communities in being economical in their environmental costs… and partners in environmental consciousness.

“All of Hawaii needs to stop thinking ‘the solution to pollution is dilution’ and stop throwing things into the ocean. Whether it is injection wastewater well overloads or improper tilling of ag lands sending silt into the ocean, it needs to stop. Simple things like vegetative buffers can prevent harmful erosion. Changing landscaping practices and fertilizers can prevent nutrient overload. Stopping cruise ships from emptying bilges during harbor stops prevents disease and pollution. Reducing overbuild on lands that have reached an environmental tipping point is important. Understanding how land-based water withdrawal has long-term impacts reaching out even to the ocean is important,” he concluded.