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Hōkūleʻa Stops at Olowalu Reef, Announced as “Mission Blue Hope Spot”

Today, Mālama Olowalu announced that on Aug. 16, 2017, Olowalu Reef was accepted as a “Mission Blue Hope Spot” by the Sylvia Earle Alliance. The last-minute announcement came as Hōkūleʻa was already on its way to Maui as part of the Polynesian Voyaging Societyʻs Mahalo Hawai’i Sail, and offered to visit Olowalu to celebrate the new designation and the vision of the Olowalu Community Marine Management Area.

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Nainoa Thompson talks about Olowalu reef with Mark H. Deakos, Ph.D. Executive Director and Chief Scientist of the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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From L-R: Olowalu resident Jaclyn Mae Santos, Tiare Lawrence, Community Organizer with Olowalu CMMA, and Mark H. Deakos, Ph.D. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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Eddie Aikau placard posted in the front of Hōkūleʻa. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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Hōkūleʻa arrives in Maui waters on Aug. 17, 2017. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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Nainoa Thompson looks at Olowalu Reef with Mo’okiha O Pi’ilani in the background. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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Lahaina native and Hōkūleʻa Captain Archie Kalepa with Nainoa Thompson. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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Archie Kalepa, Tiare Lawrence and Nainoa Thompson. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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Hōkūleʻa in West Maui. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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Crew members from the voyaging canoe, Mālama Olowalu, DLNR, and media were on deck for the special announcement about one of Hawaiʻi’s oldest and most important reefs.

Olowalu Reef is the only Hope Spot in the state, and one of seven in the US (not including Gulf of Mexico or Gulf of California).

Dr. Earle’s Mission Blue Coalition named Olowalu reef as a Hope Spot to recognize and support the community group Olowalu Community Managed Makai Area’s efforts to protect the nearly one thousand-acre coral reef, which extends four miles along the coast and out a half mile from shore from the end of the Pali to just past Olowalu point.

“We are so proud to announce that our Olowalu mother reef has been recognized by Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue as a Hope Spot, the first recognition of its kind in Hawaiʻi nei. With this, we hope that we can continue to build community awareness about the importance of the Olowalu coral reef and bring attention to the stresses that threaten its survival – climate change, sea level rise, and land use impacts,” said Tiare Lawrence, Community Organizer with Olowalu CMMA.

Lawrence’s family is from Olowalu and she has a special connection to the area. “Olowalu is home to our mother reef of Hawaiʻi, she spawns corals to Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, so if she’s under stress than Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi will be under stress because they are dependent on her producing and spawning corals,” she told Maui Now.

“Olowalu is home to black tip nurseries so they play a huge role in our eco-system here, and they’ve been under stress as well, we had a coral bleaching event happen here last year, we have climate change, we have coastal hardening projects being planned and we’re trying to prevent that from happening. We’re trying to really step up and mālama the reef, it’s given us so much life and it’s time to give back to her,” Lawrence added.

Nainoa Thompson put the Mission Blue Hope Spot recognition for Olowalu reef in context to the Mahalo Hawaiʻi Sail, “the most important leg of the worldwide voyage is the one we are on now, because we get to go to the communities of Hawaiʻi and shine the light on their work. Olowalu is a place where community, culture, indigenous knowledge and science is coming together to take care of this reef, to find solutions for their place. This is the first of 42 ports that Hōkūleʻa will visit, and if this is any indication of what all the other ports will look like, there is no place on earth that is moving at as rapid a pace to take care of their home than Hawaiʻi.”

Olowalu CMMA was started by a small group of Olowalu residents, lineal descendants, and scientists out of their love of and connection to Olowalu. After years of seeing the reef degrading, they came together to unite the community to save the reef by countering threats of shoreline loss and coastal hardening along the Honoapiʻilani Highway from Pali to Puamana, sediment being washed into storm drains and out onto the reef from erosion and fires, and rising sea surface temperatures that are bleaching and killing corals.

Executive Director and Chief Scientist of the Hawaiʻi Association for Marine Education and Research Mark Deakos, PhD, says “the Olowalu reef is Maui’s “crown jewel”, home to the oldest living coral in the main Hawaiian Islands and the largest known manta ray population in US waters. “It’s important to have both a mauka and makai management plan because Olowalu and Ukumehame haven’t been overdeveloped, we have an opportunity now to plan right to preserve this reef in perpetuity,” he said.

In 2015, DAR reported that more than 75% of corals were bleached at Olowalu in record-making warm ocean temperatures as high as 86 degrees. A maximum of 83 degrees is normal in Hawaiʻi. With some of the corals at Olowalu just recovering from the 2015 bleaching event, above average sea temperatures are again forecasted through October of this year.

Lahaina resident and Hōkūleʻa Captain Archie Kalepa said, “we need to be stewards and protect what we have left. We are in a good place and at a good time. We come home to find out how beautiful our place is, and to find the jewel in our own backyard – Olowalu. As soon as we arrived at Olowalu today, I wanted to jump off the canoe.”

“We’re just extremely grateful, knowing Hōkūleʻa was coming this weekend was a blessing, it was perfect timing. Everything happens for a reason. Here we are today, with Hōkūleʻa – she was meant to be here, and to share that message Mālama Honua in a place that we still can protect, we can protect her, we can still save Olowalu if we get enough people getting involved and engaged,” Lawrence told us.

Students from Lahainaluna came on board and Thompson’s children arrived on Maui to be a part of this weekends events. Thompson said, at the Homecoming and today, it’s the younger generation that need to understand the importance of the message Hōkūleʻa is spreading.

“What’s going to happen in the next 20 years will really define in some degree the fate of the Earth and which direction we go,” he told Maui Now. “What I really think about at the end of my career is 20 years from now, who is in charge? And what are they going to navigate – from what values, those values are taught.”

“The key piece right now is creating opportunities and experiences to the people that are tied to the values so it’s something they can connect to,” Thompson continued.

“Back when I was in school, sustainability wasn’t a word, climate change wasn’t an idea,” he continued. He recalled doing a report back in school about the infinite supply of protein from the oceans. “Today, 90% of the big fish are gone, it’s not going to work. When I graduated we couldn’t figure out solutions that would be 20 to 30 years down the road, but we know now. So the solutions need to be figured out with young people and allowing them access, experiences, an trusting them with voice and leadership, it’s just so important,” Thompson told us.

“I see Archie constantly connecting with the kids, he’s always bringing the young people to Honolua, Olowalu, Lahaina – because they’re going to be in charge one day,” Thompson concluded.

The Hope Spot’s website said this about Olowalu: In Hawaiian history, Olowalu was known as a Puʻuhonua (sanctuary) where people could take refuge, take time to reflect and heal. Given the rapidly declining resources locally and globally, the Olowalu community, in concert with many local partnerships, has taken the initiative to restore the balance that has been lost between people and nature. The local Hope Spot community, led by Mark H. Deakos, Ph.D. Executive Director and Chief Scientist of the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, is confident that Olowalu will rise again as a Puʻuhonua through the revival of ancient traditional land and ocean management practices. This reef has been selected as the first priority reef in Maui for protection by most of the top coral reef biologists in the State.

Check back tomorrow for new updates and video footage from today’s event.