Good beer, good people — Science Night at Kohola Brewery to feature West Maui’s Clean Water Team
WEST MAUI – An electrical engineer and a biophysicist walk into a bar. This may sound like the beginning of a nerdy joke or an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” but two scientists will be walking into the Kohola Brewery in Lahaina on Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. to share information and answer questions about the nearshore water quality in West Maui.
The retired electrical engineer is Dana Reed and the biophysicist is Cathy Maxwell, both of whom work for the award-winning conservation coalition Hui O Ka Wai Ola. Hui O Ka Wai Ola, loosely translated as the “living waters group,” is a citizen-scientist group that meets the quality standards of the state Department of Health (DOH) to collect and analyze ocean water. Water is life, especially on an island whose population depends on the ocean and its coral reefs for food, protection, economic sustenance and psychological well-being.
We have all witnessed brown water plumes at D.T. Fleming, Honokowai and other West Maui beaches, and beachgoers are warned to stay out of the ocean when it has turned from sparkling turquoise to chocolate brown. But when the water is apparently clear, does that mean it is safe for humans? Is it clear and clean enough to sustain healthy reefs?
Unfortunately, the DOH does not have the manpower to adequately test the ocean water around Maui. There is just one DOH employee who tests for enterococcus and other bacteria that may be harmful to humans, but currently the state does not routinely test for other pollutants. As a result, adequate data are lacking for all but two of Maui’s watersheds. That is where the Hui O Ka Wai Ola and its crack team of volunteers come in.
Many of us may wonder how clean the water is in which we are swimming, snorkeling, surfing and fishing. Reed not only wondered, but after witnessing many brown water events in Honokohua Bay, decided to do something about it.
She began testing the ocean water, not only at D.T. Fleming Beach Park, which had more than its fair share of brown water events, but other beaches in the Kapalua area as well. Dana has since become the clean water chair of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC), a group dedicated to the health and preservation of Maui’s reefs. The MNMRC, along with the Nature Conservancy, West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative and the University of Hawaii Maui College, created Hui O Ka Wai Ola.
Dana enlisted Maxwell into service shortly thereafter. Cathy was a newly retired biophysicist who had worked in the biotechnology industry and had most recently supervised a drug-discovery lab for a major pharmaceutical company. She is now the team leader for the northernmost 12 test sites. George Burnette, a retired airline pilot, is team leader for the southern West Maui sites.
Reed oversees both teams and is also busy of late extending the program to the Kihei/Wailea area, along with the team lead for South Maui, Sofia de la Sota.
The West Maui Hui has at present 16 volunteers who test ocean water at 24 sites between Papalaua Park in the south and Honolua Bay in the north. The hui has recently trained an additional 23 volunteers, 17 of whom will begin testing in South Maui (Kihei and Wailea) under the supervision of marine biologist Sofia.
Each volunteer receives 12 hours of training over a two-day certification period followed by in-the-field training with experienced volunteer technicians. All citizen-scientists must strictly follow the protocol for data collection that was approved by the DOH.
The 16 citizen-scientists in West Maui are divided into four teams, each of which is tasked with testing six sites every three weeks. At each sampling site, one of the volunteers wades into knee-deep water and fills several containers with seawater. One sample is immediately filtered and placed in a cooler for safekeeping until it can be brought back to the lab at Lahainaluna High School, frozen and shipped to a laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for analysis of nutrients such as nitrates, nitrites and phosphorous.
Even though some nutrients occur naturally, an excess of nutrients, from landscaping runoff for example, is bad for coral reefs because they promote algal blooms that can smother the reef. This is particularly harmful in recent years, since coral colonies have already been stressed by abnormally high water temperatures and by turbidity from soil washed downstream after heavy rain or from waves carving into the bank. After placing the nutrient sample in the cooler, the citizen-scientists use portable lab equipment to analyze the other samples for pH, dissolved oxygen concentration, salinity and turbidity.
The West Maui team recently celebrated its one-year anniversary of data collection. Volunteers come from all walks of life. There is a neuroscientist, a professional photographer, a school teacher, a sheriff and an artist, to name but a few. Some volunteers are retired from their careers and others are still actively working.
What is truly remarkable is that almost all of the team members who were trained over a year ago are still collecting samples today. What they have in common is a love for the ocean and its coral reefs and a desire to give back to the island that has given them so much.
Join a casual presentation and talk story with this dedicated group of community members at Kohola Brewery in Lahaina on Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. (ages 21 and up).
This evening event exploring water quality and community action is leading up to the annual Ridge to Reef Rendezvous on Oct. 28, coincidentally being held on National Make a Difference Day, which brings together over a dozen groups working on some aspect of stewardship from the top of the mountain to the ocean. The theme of this year’s event is “Ocean Optimism.”
This free, family-friendly community event features ways to get involved, a Keiki Fishing Tournament, and the first-ever “Haunted Reef” on Maui, plus great food, music and prizes.
Join your friends and neighbors along with scientists, managers and local conservation groups on Oct. 28 at Kahekili Beach Park (Old Airport Beach) in North Kaanapali from 9 a.m. to noon (note that the Keiki Fishing Tournament’s start time is 8 a.m.).
On Friday, Oct. 27, at 6 p.m., come to Whalers Village for a free special screening of the award-winning film “Chasing Coral,” followed by a Q&A panel of reef researchers.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/WestMauiKumuwai or call (808) 283-1631.