Save the Wetlands Hui by Brian Perry

“Focused on the protection and restoration of Maui Wetlands”
In an era when vital wetland areas are rapidly disappearing because of urban development, pollution and impacts of invasive species, the grassroots Save the Wetlands Hui has emerged as an important rallying point for environmental preservation and restoration in Kula Kai (South Maui).

“The most rewarding part of our work is seeing how much our community values wetlands,” said Project Manager Robin Knox, a water and environmental scientist and author of numerous scholarly studies on Kula Kai (South Maui’s) wetlands. “People love learning about the wetlands, and getting their hands dirty doing restoration work.”

From Maalaea to Makena, Kula Kai (South Maui) has served as a drainage basin for mauka lands Kula Uka a larger land portion on the slopes of Haleakala. Before the development of condominiums, homes, shopping centers and hotels in Kula Kai (South Maui), the region was known for hundreds of acres of swampy wetlands, now better appreciated for the vital role they play on the islandʻs fragile ecosystem. Now, development and environmental degradation have reduced the region’s wetlands to only about 20 acres. Climate change is bringing more frequent and severe heavy rains and flooding.

The wetland areas are coastal ecosystems that serve as natural filters for rain runoff, protection from flooding, and as habitats for a diverse array of flora and fauna. In pre-Western contact times, Hawaiians developed a sophisticated ahupua’a system, from mauka to makai, that nurtured vast fishponds that can still be seen today. Fishponds were a sort of community icebox where fish were raised and harvested, along with other seafood, such as limu. Taro was grown inland in wetland areas in terraced channels that controlled the flow of fresh water through taro patches.

Wetlands provided Hawaiians with food, fresh water, and materials for construction and other uses. Wetlands in Kula Kai (South Maui) are also associated with Muliwai or estuary, river mouth before the water flows into the kai.  Hawaiian cultural and resource advisor Vernon Kalanikau mentions,  “The muliwai in Kula Kai (South Maui) served as a place to give offerings of honor, respect,  gratitude and Aloha to our Ohana and Co-Creators of our past and present.”  Kalanikau goes on to say,  “The absence of these wetlands and itʻs kuleana to serve as natureʻs kidneys to filtrate the lepo from surface run-off is a travesty to the “Circle of Life” from mauka to makai. Poor land management from landowners up mauka and commerce driven to develop in Kula Kai wetlands. The kuleana to advocate to mālama and protect the waterways beneath has been challenging in both physical and spiritual realms.”

The Save the Wetlands Hui is a community-led initiative that aims to raise public awareness and advocate for the protection and restoration of wetlands. The Hui is made up of a diverse coalition of environmental activists, scientists, conservationists, and concerned citizens.

Members of the hui are guided by the conviction that wetlands are more than just picturesque landscapes. They play a pivotal role in maintaining the delicate balance of island ecosystems, mauka to makai. Wetlands serve as vital habitations providing refuge, foraging areas for a diverse array of flora and fauna, medicinal plants, and a home for Aeʻo, Nēnē, and Ōpeʻapeʻa. Additionally, these marshy lands act as natural sediment filters (Nature’s Kidneyʻs), purifying water sources and mitigating the impact of floods by absorbing excess water.

The Hui’s programs include monitoring, data collection, and public education about wetlands and identifying areas in need of conservation, protection, and restoration. The group fosters cultural considerations and important genealogical and communal connections to the wetlands.

The Hui’s first project phase is focused on the Kēōkea-Waiohuli corridor of Kula Kai (Central South Maui). Its second phase will expand its work to all of Kula Kai (South Maui), and future phases will include all parts of Maui County.

The Hui’s work includes its Wetlands Restoration Program, which seeks to rehabilitate degraded wetlands and reclaim lost habitats. Through partnerships with local community groups, government agencies, and environmental organizations, Save the Wetlands Hui spearheads restoration projects aimed at enhancing biodiversity, improving water quality, and safeguarding these valuable ecosystems for future generations.

One such project is the management, conservation, and restoration of 0.18-acre La`ie mauka wetland, located in Central South Maui. Work includes removing invasive species of plants, such as kiawe, Indian fleabane, Christmas berry, and Chinese fan palm, and replacing them with natives, such as akulikuli and kipukai.

The Hui has provided a hub of information about wetlands on its website at savethewetlands.org. The website has a wealth of resources on wetland preservation, volunteer opportunities, educational articles, restoration techniques, and the latest scientific research. The site includes links to Maui wetland GIS maps and photos and videos of different types of Maui wetlands.

Maui County provides grant funding for the group’s work, and public donations are gratefully accepted.

The website includes an interactive map that allows visitors to explore the wetlands in their local area and learn about ongoing conservation efforts. The map also highlights areas that are particularly vulnerable to encroachment or degradation.

The Save the Wetlands Hui also can be found on social media platforms, including Facebook. The platforms enable wetlands supporters to stay updated on upcoming events, share success stories, and participate in online discussions.

Opportunities for community involvement include participating in data collection and observations, monitoring, mapping of test site locations, and community workday wetland restoration projects.

The Hui’s partners include the County of Maui Office of Economic Development, ʻAha Moku `O Kula Kai, Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club Maui, Kihei Community Association, Learning Endeavors, and Pili Koko.

To find out more, visit https://savethewetlands.org/. The Hui’s Facebook Group link can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/savethewetlands/ or on Instagram at @mauiwetlands. The Hui’s email address is mauiwetlands@gmail.com.