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Wildfire and Sediment: Addressing Two of the Biggest Threats to Māʻalaea Bay

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A unique pilot project on Maui will use oysters to filter water at Māʻalaea Bay in an attempt to improve water quality at the location.

“The Māʻalaea water quality needs some help, and it turns out that oysters are superb at filtering the water.  The largest oysters can filter 40 gallons per day of water, and take out everything from oils and heavy metals and silt to all the chemicals that somehow end up in our waters,” said Larry Stevens, Board Member of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.

The Maui Nui Resource Council says wildfire and sediment are two of the biggest threats to ocean water quality at the site.  According to the MNMRC, wildfires burn away the plant cover on upslope lands, creating prime conditions for soil erosion.


“Erosion results in sediment in the ocean, which harms coral reefs, hindering their ability to feed, grow and reproduce,” according to the MNMRC.

The organization hosts a free talk on the threats and mitigation efforts at Māʻalaea Bay tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at The Sphere at the Maui Ocean Center. Admission is free and the public is invited. Seating is limited, so advance reservations are suggested. Click HERE to make a complimentary reservation.

Speaker Michael Reyes, Senior Ecologist at Maui Environmental Consulting, will take participants on a virtual trip to the Pōhākea watershed above Māʻalaea, to learn about plans to mitigate wildfires in the area and resolve problems that currently contribute to erosion.


Reyes will also share the findings and the action steps outlined in the “Vision for Pōhākea” plan that Maui Environmental Consulting created on behalf of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.

Amy Hodges, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council’s Programs Manager will speak about the oyster project and will show photos of the oysters that are being raised.

Stevens says that rather than using pearl oysters, which are not the best water filterers, the MNMRC will be using Pacific Oysters, which have been found in Hawaiian waters for many years.


He said it’s a complicated project to create life in a challenging environment like the harbor.  “The challenges are tremendous because Māʻalaea is the driest part of the island, the windiest part of the island and the most fire prone part of the island; and when the fires burn, the plants are torched, much of the soil becomes loose, so when the rains come, it all erodes down into the ocean.”

“We’re going to be coming up with a variety of strategies to help with fire mitigation–to do things like making firebreaks, to bring additional water sources–so that when we do have a fire, we can control it much more quickly.  And also to do planting to reduce the erosion to help develop plants that can quickly recover after a fire so less soil is lost in these dramatic events,” said Stevens.

Stevens notes that reducing fires will make a difference to everybody who travels along the Honoapiʻilani Highway, including commuters to and from West Maui.

“When we have fires, often the road can be closed for hours or even longer.  Infrastructure, which is electricity and internet service–all of that passes right through that area and if there’s a fire, it will all be destroyed in a flash.  So, we’re not just helping the oysters–we’re helping all kinds of things and also helping the oysters.”

Māʻalea aerial. File photo courtesy DLNR.

Māʻalea fire. File photo 6/10/10 by Wendy Osher.

Firefighters spent 60 hours battling a 5,800 acre blaze at Māʻalea. File photo (June 10, 2010) by Joni DeMello.

Māʻalaea fire. July 3, 2016. File photo courtesy: County of Maui, Ryan Piros.

Māʻalaea fire. File photo July 3, 2016: County of Maui, Ryan Piros.

Māʻalaea Mauka fire. PC: Ryan Prios / County of Maui 10.2.19.

Oct. 27, 2014, 6:15 a.m. from Māʻalaea Harbor toward Kīhei. File courtesy photo.


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