LAHAINA - A bare roadside hill in Hanakao'o Cemetery that once sent red dust into the air and red water into the ocean is now home to more than 1,000 native plants, thanks to a grassroots campaign launched June 9 and scores of volunteers that came out to make a difference for West Maui.
"We transformed the cemetery slope into something green and alive. It feels good to be a part of this," said volunteer Wendy Macaheleg, a heavy equipment operator who grew up paddling at Canoe Beach about a hundred yards away from the planting site.
"Since high school, I have been amazed by how dry and parched the area is. By bringing water to the area and greening it, it shows that people are paying attention and that they care," Macaheleg said.
Volunteers planted native plants to stabilize the hill above Hanakao‘o Cemetery on June 9.
"What we have done here today changes the feel of the area and will hopefully make people respect it more."
The plantings are intended to both beautify the historic site and to stabilize the hillside in order to reduce the amount of runoff reaching the ocean via Wahikuli Gulch.
Soil runoff can have negative impacts on the health of coral reefs, which provide important economic, social and cultural benefits to the area.
The planting event also launched the West Maui Kumuwai campaign, which organizers said is a movement to protect the ocean through personal action and community collaboration.
The campaign is built on the belief that "If we each do a little, we can all do a lot," and asks residents to make simple choices at home or in their yard that will benefit the health of the ocean.
"We launched the campaign here today because of the effort and cooperation demonstrated by all the volunteers; this is what the West Maui Kumuwai campaign is all about. Together, we can make a big difference," said Tova Callender, the West Maui watershed and coastal management coordinator with the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative.
"This outpouring of community support is encouraging, and we hope to continue to see this kind of support as we move forward, helping to take care of these plans, to ensure they thrive, and spreading this effort to new areas," said volunteer Joe Ward.
"I'd love to see school kids, church groups and canoe clubs out on the hill weeding and taking ownership for these plants."
Partners and sponsors of the planting event included Parsons Construction, Kaanapali Operators Association, Convergent Conservation, Native Nursery, Maui Cultural Lands, County of Maui, CJ's Deli and Diner, Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, Irrigation Systems Inc., Maui Service Rentals, Division of Aquatic Resources, and Tri-Isle RC&D.
For those who want to join the West Maui Kumuwai movement by pledging to do ocean-friendly activities at home and in the yard, or by volunteering in the community, visit www.WestMauiKumuwai.org or call Callender at (808) 214-4239.
West Maui Kumuwai is a collaborative effort made up of Maui community members, individuals from non-profits, and state and federal agencies.
The campaign's strategy is supported by the nonprofit SeaWeb with funding provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral. The campaign also supports the efforts of the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative.