Kaʻonoʻulu/Kulanihakoi Wetlands

Kaʻonoʻulu/Kulanihakoi Wetlands in Kīhei are a beautiful example of the active watershed, and the natural systems at work. The wetlands at the mouth of the Kulanihakoi gulch are one pearl on the necklace of a connected system of upland watersheds, gulches, streams, underground springs, aquifers, flood plains, and wetlands. This muliwai is fed from underground springs, and thus has permanent water year-round, home to native species and other wildlife. This portion of the watershed creates a vital link between the land and ocean, and serves as a vital organ of the water cycle.

Kulanihakoi Gulch mauka of South Kihei Road.

When streams meet the floodplain, it is common that they widen out and allow the waterflow to slowdown. This is often where muliwais form. The slowing of the water is an important factor. This physical property is essential to their function as filters of storm waters.

Kaʻonoʻulu Estuary Wetland
Kaʻonoʻulu Estuary Wetland

According to the SMWP (South Maui Watershed Plan): “The estuary site is located at the Kaʻonoʻulu Estuary and is associated with the outfall of Kulanihakoi Gulch where it meets coastal waters. This site has been assessed for TN, Nitrate+Nitrite (inorganic nitrogen as NO³+NO²), and turbidity. During past assessments, this site did not attain water quality standards for any of these parameters. Insufficient data points for ammonia and Chlorophyll were available at this site to adequately assess their attainment status”. View the SMWP-FINAL-December-2019.pdf here.

The new bridge over the old conspan roadway bridge over Kulanihakoi Gulch. These structures allow floodwater to pass beneath South Kihei Road. These muddy waters show why wetlands are needed to help protect the ocean.

Kulanihakoi kahawai meets the Kalepolepo muliwai at South Kihei Road.

Natural Watershed Features: The presence of this natural watershed feature attracted early Hawaiians and has long been revered as a sacred place. This area has many cultural artifacts and has a historical connection to the royal Kalepolepo fishpond just offshore.

Kalepolepo Fishpond, known by its older name Koʻie’ie. Loko Iʻa, is an ancient Hawaiian fishpond estimated to have been built between 1400–1500 AD. There is also another estuary wetland located within the Loko walls called Koʻieʻie Wetland.

Kalepolepo (Koʻieʻie) Fishpond, in Kula Kai (Kīhei)
Kalepolepo (Koʻieʻie) Fishpond, in Kula Kai (Kīhei)