La’ie Wetland

Success Story – Lāʻie Makai Wetland the Lāʻie muliwai is an urban wetland. It is currently surrounded by residential and commercial urban development in Kīhei. But it wasn’t always an urban wetland, in fact it predates all human settlement in the islands, and it might even outlive us all. To see how the surrounding areas have changed over time have a look at our before and after pictures. Lāʻie has become a beautiful example of what a community-lead and county-supported restoration of a wetland can accomplish. This area is especially precious as it has a large body of permanent water and connects directly to the ocean.

Lāʻie Wetland Restoration Site (Photo Suzie Dorn)

The Lāʻie wetland is located in the Moku of Kula (Kihei), in the watershed of Hapapa, and the Ahupuaʻa of Kēōkea. It sits within the Kēōkea Gulch and has its outlet at Kawililipoa beach. This wetland is located on the Kihei floodplain and shares the aquifer with multiple muliwai (wetlands). It is part of a larger group of Muliwai that include, Lāʻie-mauka, Halama, and Welakahao.

Lāʻie Wetland and South Kihei Road (Photo Suzie Dorn)
Lāʻie Wetland and South Kihei Road (Photo Suzie Dorn)

The pathways of the Wai: Water travels from Mauka to Makai, (from the mountains to the sea). Lāʻie Wetland sits within a gulch that starts high on the slopes of Haleakalā that travels downhill through various terrain and climates, where it crosses under Piʻilani Highway and into Welakahao and then Lāʻie-Mauka, and then passes underneath South Kihei road. This section of the roadway has a culvert bridge that has been extensively engineered to allow water to pass beneath it.

Engineered “conspan” bridge under South Kihei Road.

This wetland serves the local area by handling large amounts of stormwater runoff, and by being an important habitat for native species. Especially for several species of endangered Hawaiian waterbirds. This wetland or “muliwai” also helps to trap large amounts of sediment before it reaches the ocean, thereby protecting the sea life, and especially the local coral reefs offshore.

Lāʻie Wetland (Photo Suzie Dorn)
Lāʻie Wetland (Photo Suzie Dorn)

Perennial freshwater pools at Lāʻie  Lāʻie has been important to Hawaiians since ancient times, as a source of freshwater and for gathering and cultivating foods. This wetland is within an ancient ahupua’a, and is bordered by an ancient royal fishpond of cultural significance.

The Kulamoemalia Fishpond at the mouth of the Lāʻie Muliwai

Mālama a Wetland Community Workdays

The makai portion of the Lāʻie wetland was previously the site of a community-based restoration, now additional areas mauka are being cleaned and restored. In the photo below, volunteers clear invasive grasses that were choking the waterways. To continue the work at Lāʻie Muliwai, the Mauka section “Lāʻie Mauka“, on the eastern side of South Kīhei Road, has several community workdays and cleanups scheduled.

Mālama Lāʻie Wetlands Community Workda
Mālama Lāʻie Wetlands Community Workday