WEST MAUI - The state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District last week signed a $3 million cost-share agreement to develop a watershed plan to support the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative.
The project is one of the first efforts in the state to implement a comprehensive management strategy to address impacts to coral reefs across multiple watersheds.
The watershed plan will be funded 75 percent by the Corps and 25 percent by DLNR.
The proposed 24,000-acre West Maui Watershed study area extends from Kaanapali northward to Honolua and from the summit of Pu‘u Kukui to the outer reef. It includes the watersheds of Wahikuli, Honokowai, Kahana, Honokahua and Honolua.
According to DLNR, West Maui has some of the most severely impacted coral reefs in Hawaii.
In West Side waters, nearly 25 percent of all living corals have been lost in the last 13 years. Without dramatic steps to restore favorable conditions, reefs statewide risk rapid degradation, the two agencies announced.
Causes of coral reef decline are complex and not yet fully understood, but land-based pollution is known to be a serious threat to coral reef ecosystems.
DLNR explained that increased sedimentation associated with loss of forest land, historical agriculture practices, stream channelization and rapid development have clearly impacted coral reef health.
"The islands and reefs are connected; what we do on land affects the reef," said William J. Aila Jr., DLNR chairman.
"Recognizing this relationship, the state understands that an integrated and comprehensive approach to reduce land-based sources of pollution is one of the most important steps to help restore coral reef ecosystems. Healthy coral reefs are vital to our island lifestyle, economy and a thriving Native Hawaiian culture."
The West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative will engage various federal and state agencies and organizations in the implementation of a strategy to reduce the threats of land-based pollution to coral reefs in West Maui.
As an initial step, a number of federal agencies and organizations are funding technical studies and public education efforts to support the DLNR- and Corps-funded watershed plan.
DLNR and other agencies will implement priority "on-the-ground" actions as they are identified, while the DLNR- and Corps-funded watershed plan is developing the comprehensive strategy.
"Through its support of the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative, the Corps is continuing its commitment to improving the stewardship and sustainability of Hawaii's watersheds and nearshore habitats. The signing of this cost share agreement represents more than a decade of hard work and tireless efforts made by federal, state, local leaders and the community to preserve and protect the 'aina," said Lt. Col. Thomas D. Asbery, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District.
This initiative expands on the 2011 U.S. Coral Reef Task Force-designated priority partnership for the Kaanapali to Kahekili area.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, state Department of Health, West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership and Kaanapali Makai Watch are all providing assistance as part of the initiative to improve the health of West Maui's reefs.
"We have been working in the mauka watershed since 1998. We are happy to see this initiative start to expand conservation from mauka to makai," said Chris Brosius, coordinator for the West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership.
More information is available online at www.hawaiicoralreefstrategy.com.