Thursday, August 27, 2009

Malama Maunalua in Hawaii Kai

Malama Maunalua is a nonprofit group of neighbors, scientists, government officials, and environmentalists who have been working together for several years to restore the health of the East Honolulu resource, Maunalua Bay. They are using their expertise and energy to solve the complex problems degrading the reef and nearshore ecosystem of the bay.

Causes of the degredation come from excessive sedimentation, invasive species, overfishing, and other human threats. If Malama Maunalua succeeds, however, the project is expected to serve as a general framework for other Hawai'i communities trying to stem the deterioration of their coastal marine environments. "This is just a microcosm of what needs to happen statewide," said Alyssa Miller, coordinator for Malama Maunalua. Other marine conservation efforts across the state have concentrated on fishery resources in rural or less populated areas, but Malama Maunalua is focusing on the large suburban area of Hawaii Kai that is home to more than 60,000 people.

As funding for nonprofits has decreased substantially, both from the public and private sectors, neighborhood volunteers have teamed with scientists, nonprofit organizations and government agencies to leverage resources, gather empirical data and develop possible solutions that must be maneuvered through a potentially divisive political process.

More than 5,000 have participated in the Malama Maunalua project, removing algae, cleaning beaches, putting on education forums. At last count, 200 volunteers have removed 25 tons of invasive algae, or seaweed, over the last 18 months. The group has partnered with nearly 50 government agencies, environmental organizations, businesses and other entities to address a problem that experts acknowledge has no easy solutions.

Recently, the group has partnered with The Nature Conservancy, and secured more than $3 million in federal economic stimulus funding to hire dozens of full-time workers to pull invasive algae from the bay. Volunteers also are trying to bring changes to the mostly concrete-lined stream system that channels huge volumes of rain runoff and sedimentation from the mountains and valleys into the bay, further degrading conditions along the reef flat.

Bob Richmond, a University of Hawaii marine biologist and volunteer in Malama Maunalua, is establishing benchmarks to measure reforestation efforts. The biological markers being developed are intended to measure changes in months, not years, so Hawaii Kai can quickly learn what works and what doesn't.

Supporters of the group's efforts emphasize that if the marine environment benefits, Hawaii Kai residents and ocean users ultimately benefit from nicer beaches, higher property values, increased recreational opportunities, more abundant marine life and better quality of life. And Hawaii Kai residents likely will pay greater attention to protecting the environment and encourage others to do likewise.

I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Malama Maunalua and urge residents and tourists alike to help with their work to protect our spectacular Maunalua Bay. Read more at the Honolulu Advertiser.

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