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Volunteers sought to help monitor ocean water quality in West Maui

By Staff | Apr 14, 2016

WEST MAUI – Anybody can be a scientist; well, a citizen scientist, that is. It’s an important position environmental-wise on a grassroots level – where it counts the most – right in your own backyard.

At a meeting planned next Thursday, April 21, at the Kaunoa Senior Center in Lahaina, West Siders will learn more about an opportunity to join a volunteer-based coastal water quality monitoring network, Hui O Ka Wai Ola.

In 2015, over an eight-month period, water quality was tested by the state Department of Health (DOH) for nitrates, phosphates and turbidity levels at 14 different locations in West Maui.

The results were alarming.

The turbidity levels at all of the sampled sites surpassed state DOH water quality standards; specifically, Ka’opala was at the top of the chart followed by Hanakao’o, Honolua, Honokahua and Pohaku.

At Pohaku Park, also known as “S-Turns,” NNN (nitrate nitrite nitrogen) levels were almost 70 times higher than the state standard, citizen scientist Dana Reed reported.

Reed is the team leader in West Maui for water quality data collection.

“We can’t say what is specifically causing that. The most common causes of high levels of nitrates are fertilizers and wastewater,” the Kapalua retired engineer told the Lahaina News.

“You can see the brown water; you know that is bad. There are other things, like nitrogen compounds, that don’t cause brown water, and you can’t see. If you have too much of that stuff in your water, it could be from sewer lines that are leaking that could cause spikes in nitrogen levels. It will also cause spikes in bacterial levels, as well,” Reed noted.

Monitoring the situation is critical, West Maui Watershed and Coastal Management Coordinator Tova Callender advised.

“You can only manage what you measure. If we do not understand the state of our coastal waters, we can do nothing to improve them,” she added.

Additionally, Reed noted, “good water quality is important for human health and safety and is fundamental for healthy coral reef systems.”

Reed is a passionate advocate of our delicate marine eco-system.

Coral reefs support healthy fish populations, she said, and protect coastal areas from wave energy.

Maui is a popular destination resort, with visitors flocking to the island from all over the globe to snorkel and dive the crystal clear offshore waters. The loss of that resource could impact the state economy, she said.

The state needs help; and, with grants awarded to fund the monitoring program in West Maui, the next step is to recruit volunteers to join the network.

“This first meeting (next Thursday) is just about what we’re doing and the different levels of volunteers we’re seeking,” Reed commented.

Training to test water quality includes attending an intensive two-day workshop, Reed said.

Further, “it involves at least once a month going out and spending a good part of the day – five or six hours – gathering water samples, testing and preparing them for shipment to Oahu.”

“We have opportunities for people to contribute in other ways as well,” Reed continued, like reporting rainfall, stream flow and brown water events.

Volunteers can make a difference.

“The community benefits,” Callender said, “because with up-to-date information of coastal water quality, we can collectively instigate and push for actions to address concerns.”

For more information, call Callender at (808) 214-4239.