KAANAPALI - Sunday's celebration of the four-year anniversary of the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA) - a first-of-its-kind marine managed area located in North Kaanapali - was joined by community members from across the island.
The "Birthday Bash and Ridge to Reef Celebration" took place Sunday, July 28, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kahekili Beach Park (known by many as Airport Beach).
The KHFMA was created in July 2009 in response to concerns about the long-term decline of the reef in North Kaanapali. Situated along a two-mile stretch of coastline in Kaanapali, the KHFMA was designed to protect the population of herbivores- animals that eat seaweed, such as surgeonfish, parrotfish (uhu) and sea urchins - in the area to reduce excess algae and improve coral health.
Contest participants wolfed down seaweed salad in “Hawaii’s First-Ever Seaweed Eating Competition.”
The day's activities included a ridge to reef-themed culinary contest that wasn't judged for taste but for appearance. (Think cupcakes with uncooked spaghetti poking out to mimic sea urchins.)
Participants also joined a Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) biologist for a snorkeling tour, to see how the reefs in KHFMA are faring firsthand.
To draw attention to the herbivores of the area, contest participants chowed down on seaweed salad in "Hawaii's First Ever Seaweed Eating Competition."
Elizabeth Triplett, a resident of Kaanapali, beat out four other female contestants by eating one pound of seaweed in four minutes and 59 seconds. "I did it for my kids," said Triplett, "and now I'll probably never eat seaweed again."
Ten years ago, Triplett won a soda-drinking contest, but this is the first food competition she's ever joined.
"My body is going to need to recover after this," she said, laughing, "but now my kids have a better understanding of what it means to have a healthy reef."
Ka'au Abraham, the Maui coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, ate a pound-and-a-quarter of seaweed in two minutes and seven seconds to beat four other male participants.
"My strategy was no chewing - just swallow," he said. "I never knew I could eat that fast. It was actually pretty good."
The theme of the event was "ridge to reef" to highlight the actions that people can take on land to have a positive impact on marine resources.
"With the community's support of the fisheries management and help with watershed conservation efforts, we have a real chance to turn the tide on reef decline," said Darla White, a biologist at the Division of Aquatic Resources. "It's going to take a lot of work and time, but we are hopeful that they can recover."
Many volunteers have watched over the area through the years, including Julie and Mike Merrick of Kaanapali, who have logged in over 60 observation reports through the Kaanapali Makai Watch program.
"We talk to resource users about the special rules that apply to the area, speak to visitors about the area's characteristics and make observations about what's happening," said Julie. "We feel like we have a moral obligation to protect our ocean, and want to be able to help out in any way possible."
Event hosts included the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative (R2R), Department of Aquatic Resources and the West Maui Kumuwai campaign.