The World’s Best Island

On Maui, the “World’s Best Island,” Citizens Volunteer to Support Clean Ocean Water

For 20 years, Maui has been voted the worldʻs #1 island in the annual Conde Nast Readersʻ Choice Awards. In addition to spectacular beaches, breathtaking scenery and a rich cultural heritage, Maui can also boast about the dozens of residents who are so passionate about clean ocean water that they volunteer year-round to help monitor Mauiʻs coastal water quality.

“Our volunteers are keenly aware that clean ocean water is essential for healthy coral reefs, and important for all who enjoy recreating in our coastal waters,” explains Robin Newbold, chair and co-founder of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC) an award-winning Maui-based nonprofit.

Three years ago, MNMRC joined forces with The Nature Conservancy and West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative to launch a unique community-based ocean water quality monitoring program called Hui O Ka Wai Ola (Association of Living Waters). The program partners with Hawaiiʻs State Department of Health Clean Water Branch to provide quality-assured data that can be relied upon by local, state and federal government, as well as community groups and researchers.

“Our goal is to generate scientific data that identifies where Maui’s nearshore ocean water quality is impaired or declining, so we can work with the community to identify the causes and find solutions,” said Newbold.

With over 40 trained volunteers and donations from the community, including support from the County of Maui Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and Hawaii Tourism Authority, the program personnel are able to regularly test ocean water quality at 41 locations in South and West Maui year, round.

The volunteers test for water clarity, as well as pH, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorous. The resulting data is shared openly on the website and at community meetings.

“In West Maui, the primary water quality issue is sediment in the water, which research has shown is due to the legacy of plantation agriculture which caused top soil to erode into streams and gulches,” says James Strickland, Program Manager of Hui O Ka Wai Ola. “In South Maui, the major issue is excessive nutrients, from sources such as fertilizers and wastewater. Both sediment and nutrients degrade coral reefs.”

The program is supported by Hawaii Tourism Authority, County of Maui Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, foundations and donors.

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