Data collection and Mapping

Community Input: The best source of wetland data comes from the community. Many kūpuna (elders) and kama’aina (people of the land) have lived in the Kula Kai area for lifetimes and some families for multiple generations. This creates an important source of first-hand knowledge, Kilo (observation) and Ike (knowledge) of this area that has been passed along through stories and photographs. Many of our local kūpunas (elders) can remember swimming and fishing in many of the wetlands, streams, waterholes and ponds that are now hidden or have disappeared. Manaʻo (knowledge/thoughts) shared by our community gives us the basis for much of our research and investigations, and has allowed us to rediscover many hidden treasures and deep cultural connections.

Research was conducted of available data including historical maps, drainage and watershed studies, scientific data, and historical imagery, photographic image analysis, and evaluation.

Ongoing ground studies include regular site visits by various experts, stakeholders, as well as community groups, and volunteers.

Citizen investigators in our community are encouraged to share their experiences and photos through our social media pages, and by submitting Photographs and Video’s to

Aerial survey by helicopter, with Nick Moran, David Dorn, and Suzie Dorn.

Site studies included numerous site inspections for observation and data collection. Community members assisted scientists and experts with data collection and observations. Areas of interest included hydrologic soil monitoring, and recording various wildlife, plant life, and various human impacts.

Soil-pit and water table data collection.

Kīhei Flood Plain: The area of interest for the current study is in the Kīhei/Kula Kai Flood Plain. The Kihei floodplain extends from the Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in the north along the coastal plain down to the rocky headland at Charley Young beach. The coastal plain is characterized by sandy soils and a relatively flat alluvial fan. This area has many sandy beaches, sand dunes, and is punctuated by streams, gulches, estuaries, and wetlands. This area is generally known as North Kīhei but more traditionally as Kula Kai. This area is within the Moku of Kula and includes portions of at least six different ahupua’a. Pūlehunui, Waiakoa, Kaʻonoʻulu, Waiohuli, Kēōkea, and Kamaʻole.

Kīhei/Kula Kai Floodplain
Kīhei/Kula Kai Floodplain

The study area is generally within the Kīhei floodplain. This area is located on the low-elevation coastal plain. The “floodplain” is generally considered to have a maximum elevation of approximately 9.8 feet (3 meters) above Mean Sea Level (MSL).  The Coastal Hazard Zone for 3.2 feet of sea level corresponds to the area shown in yellow above.

South Maui Wetland Inventory Study Area: The area indicated in green in Figure 4 correlates to the 3.2ft SLR coastal hazard zone and includes elevations of approximately 3-4 feet above the current Mean Sea level (MSL). The fuchsia-colored areas correspond to the wetlands indicated in the 1965 Historical Map shown here.

Figure 6 Wetland Sites (previously identified and 2021 sites)

Wetland sites were selected for mapping based on their location within the known boundaries of historical wetland areas, from historical topographical maps, and diagrams obtained from other including the Kīhei Drainage Master Plan (KDMP) (R.M. Towill Corporation, 2016) and the Southwest Maui Watershed Management Plan (Reyes, 2019)and various other government documents. The sites studied are either currently classified as wetlands, exhibit wetland characteristics, or were classified as wetlands in the past; provide wetland ecosystem services to the community; or are anticipated to have wetland characteristics in the future due to inundation as a result of sea level rise. This examination of wetlands past, present, and future, revealed wetland sites not previously identified, as shown in Figure 6.

STREAMS OF KULA KAI: Figure 9 From left to right (north to south), 1) Keahuaiwi, 2) Waiakoa, 3) Ohukai, 4) Kulanihakoi, 5) Ko`ie`ie, 6) Waiohuli, 7) Waipuilani, 8) Kawililipoa, 9) Lā`ie, 10) Kēōkea, 11) Waimahaihai, 12) Kīhei, 13) Kaluaihakoko.

Kihei Streams Diagram

The streams in Figure 9 above are a simplified visualization of the area’s main streams. There are many smaller streams that are not pictured. Each wetland has a water source either by groundwater (subsurface) or surface-flow. Most muliwai (wetlands) in Kula Kai have associated kahawai (streams).

Kula Kai streams and wetlands.

Wetlands in Context: When looking at a wetland, it must be viewed in the context of its entire surrounding watershed and position in the landscape. All of the watershed features work together to protect and restore the water resources of the island. The watershed reaches from ridge to reef, incorporating wetlands, shorelines, and Hawaiian fishponds. A wetland is a crucial link in the chain of features that manages the flow of water from mauka to makai.   The watershed is the minimum unit for water resources management, and efforts to restore the watershed will allow the enhancement of wetland functions such as floodwater storage and protection of water ocean quality.

Figure 7 Wetland sites in Kaonoulu, Waiohuli, and Keokea, shown in yellow, in the context of the larger watershed base map from  (R.M. Towill Corporation, 2016)

Figure 8 Watershed sub-basins with streams and wetlands.Figure 8 Watershed sub-basins with streams and wetland study sites.