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Researcher: West Maui reefs need protection

By Staff | Aug 14, 2014

WEST MAUI – A Hawaii environmental services firm conducting a coral reef assessment this summer believes that all West Maui reefs need protection.

Mark Howland of WHALE Environmental Services LLC (WES) last week provided an update on his firm’s research commissioned by the state.

“Earlier this week, our biologists toured the shoreline from Ukumehame to Honolua. We found over 25 major stressors to the ocean environment ranging from silted rivers to nutrient overloads. And over 75 minor stressors were identified, which cumulatively can have serious impacts, such as shoreline aprons delivering road runoff with its oils and greases, asbestos brake dust and silt and sand to the ocean. The state acknowledges the situation with its signage that flooding carries sand and debris along the highway. Eventually, something needs to be done to minimize impacts beyond warning drivers of road conditions,” he noted.

“WHALE Environmental Services LLC also has gathered as much pertinent GIS (geographic information system) data as possible. Imagery, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), spatial analysis indicates that West Maui reefs suffer. Though the formal reef assessment using DAR (state Division of Aquatic Resources) protocols will be the final say in judging reef health, it is safe to say that there is no reef in West Maui that is not in need of protection and reduction of stress.”

For Project Manager Howland, returning to West Maui to conduct the research is a pleasure. His firm is helping to protect precious aquatic resources, and the project serves “to remind us how the West Maui community always seems to pull together.”

WES is conducting the coral reef assessment for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and its Division of Aquatic Resources along the shorelines of West Maui.

State biologists Emma Anders, Darla White and Russell Sparks are helping by providing the background data, direction and assistance to ensure the project becomes a viable planning tool for the West Maui community, Howland said.

“But it is the other partnerships that still amaze us, as West Maui again and again pulls together to protect their resources. Rather than bring our vessel over from Oahu and the difficult, three-hour channel crossing, we reached out to old friends at the Pacific Whale Foundation. The PWF agreed to allow the use of their research vessel, the Ocean Explorer, for our divers to conduct the reef health assessments,” Howland explained.

He thanked Dr. Emmanuelle Martinez, director of research; Lauren Campbell, director of conservation; Kristie Wigglesworth, associate director; and Greg Kaufman, director, of PWF. In turn, WES is allowing foundation interns to accompany its personnel, so they can expand their training and knowledge.

“Interns will also assist in gathering water quality data along the shoreline, so we can better understand what stressors are affecting the reefs,” he added.

Community activists like Randy Draper have reached out to WHALE Environmental Services to talk about reef stressors, and the researchers received help from the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and General Manager Tets Yamazaki.

“The hotel has reef information billboards around the property highlighting the need to protect the coral reefs. When we informed the staff that we were conducting the reef assessments, not only were we offered the kama’aina rates but also extended checkout, so that we can shower and change after time in the field. Other accommodation sites are equally cooperative and informative. Even the airport has ‘Protect the Reefs’ posters,” Howland noted.

Once the data is collected, WES will turn to the West Maui community to step up and protect area reefs.

“As WHALE Environmental Services LLC finishes the reef assessments in August and September, we expect the fall to be a series of community education efforts. Bonnie Howland, principal manager will set of a series of workshops with community groups, agencies, schools and other locales. Again, a community will pull together as ideas flow, awareness surfaces and actions taken. It will be West Maui pulling together once again to protect our coral reefs that drive a tourism economy and provide habitat for the species we love to view,” Howland concluded.

In the four- to six-month study, called “Identifying and Preserving the Resiliency of the West Maui Coral Reefs,” researchers are inspecting West Maui reefs, assessing factors that allow a reef to bounce back and identifying stressors that lead to weakness and reef loss.

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. Oahu-based WES is donating an estimated $18,995 in services for the project.