Kalama Wetlands

Click to see the Kalama-Wetland-Orthophoto

The Kalama Wetlands at Kalama park in Kīhei are the last part of a long journey for waters flowing from high on Haleakala. Water flowing overland and flowing underground finds its way here. Kalama is a perennial (permanent ) muliwai (estuary wetland) and is fed constantly by groundwater springs.

Sandy Beach: The beach at the river mouth is no place to be during a flash flood, as it can be flooded very quickly. However, this wetland and beach system is an important link in the watershed’s infrastructure and provides important wetland services.

Kihei Stream Kalama-Wetland. Photo D&S.Dorn

Sand flats: In front of the river mouth is an alluvial fan of sand from accumulated stream deposits. Also at the stream mouth where the freshwater flows into the ocean, the coral doesn’t grow. Coral growth is inhibited by freshwater so a natural sand flat occurs in this area. There are also various marine species here that are specialized to the freshwater springs that enter the ocean here. You can see the freshwater entering the seawater here, like a shimmering distortion when you snorkel. And you can sometimes feel the temperature change as spring water comes out of the seafloor at a different temperature than the surrounding seawater.

In the back-beach area there is now a large park. The kahawai (stream) that flows into this wetland comes through the Kihei Gulch #1, then through the shops at Kalama Village flows under South Kihei Road, and along the stream bed next to the whale statue. The wetland here expands when it rains, and there is a footbridge over it where the shoreline promenade crosses the stream near the skate park.  Under the ironwood trees is a cool dark area where a deep pool of brackish water lies.

Kalama Wetlands in Kihei.

Wetland Services: Wetlands, like the Kalama Wetlands, provide services called “wetlands services”. These include, filtering stormwater, detaining floodwater, providing a habitat, sequestering carbon, and absorbing chemicals and other contaminants. This wetland is the drainage system for the entire neighborhood.

Kalama Wetland Challenges: Several factors challenge this wetland, This wetland is the receiving basin for floodwaters, and surface stormwater from the surrounding areas. All the trash and debris from nearby streets and drains tend to collect here when the waters are calmer and slow-moving. The beach berm acts as a dam and a filter. Trash will accumulate on the wetlands side of the beach until it is removed or the dune is breached in a storm or by other means. Wetlands naturally collect trash, mud, and debris, it is their job, But we need to support the wetlands or they will become trash pits, and stagnant ponds. Nature sometimes needs a little help, this is why wetland recognition and wetland maintenance are important. If we are to keep receiving all of the wetland benefits they provide then we need to pay close attention to their condition and assist them when necessary.

Stream choked up with ironwood tree needles and lawn clippings.

The red lines on the photo above show the approximate location of the stream banks. Stream banks change over time, and stream narrowing occurs when sediments are allowed to build up on the stream edges.  Nature will eventually reshape the course of the streams, when it needs to but, it does not always fit within the plans of humans. When stream beds are allowed to fill with debris and sediment the next flood might change the course of the stream and take an unexpected path.

Trash in the Wetland. Photo: D&S.Dorn

Invasive Grass in the Wetland: At Kalama, the surrounding areas are grassy lawns. The maintenance crews dump their clippings in the streambed, and allow the grass to grow into the streambed. Unfortunately, this situation is too common in Kula Kai. In this photo, you can see this section of the wetlands is full of grass. This all used to be open water all the way to the roadway.

Invasive Grass in Wetland

Delta formation: The more sediment that is allowed to build up, the less likely that the next flash flood will follow the existing streamway.  This is where you will tend to get lateral flooding and a single stream mouth can sometimes turn into a delta.

Kihei Stream: The Kihei Stream flows from upcountry, past ranchlands, and agricultural fields, through neighborhoods, and commercial areas, and finally flows into the wetlands and the ocean. Click here to learn more about Kihei Stream.

The Kalama muliwai (wetland) and its supporting kahawai (stream, gully).

Nearshore Waters: The waters adjacent to the Wetlands are connected through underground springs where the groundwater flows daily into the ocean, as well as periodic overland flooding that comes during rainfall events. The nearshore waters are full of marine life that is protected, including several endemic and endangered species.

Protect Maui’s Coral Reefs sign posted at Kalama Park