Waiohuli Kai Wetland

Waiohuli Kai wetland is a coastal wetland with permanent spring-water, that was once part of a much larger coastal lagoon complex.

Waiohuli Kai Muliwai (Wetland) looking inland from the beach.

A large area of the coastal freshwater lagoon was infilled and built over by the Koa Lagoon resort. Local legend has it that it will one day sink back into the lagoon, which is fairly believable when considering that sea level rise is happening and that wetlands and water tables are rising, and wetlands will be moving inland due to a process called “Marsh Migration“.

Waiohuli-Kai Wetland

Waiohuli Kai Restoration: Waiohuli Kai is a great example of dedicated community volunteers restoring the native vegetation, through a very careful, patient, and painstaking process based on understanding the natural processes, or “Kilo” (acquiring local knowledge through continuous immersion and experiential awareness). Cody “Koko” Nemet Tuivaiti is the founder of  ʻĀINAKŪKOʻA O WAIOHULI KAI that malamas this place. ‘Āinakūko’a is a Hui dedicated to the restoration and rehabilitation of Waiohuli Kai, you can visit their Facebook Page here.

Waiohuli Kai wetland restoration and replanting. Photo courtesy Cody Tuivaiti

The Importance of Wetland vegetation: Wetland vegetation provides many benefits to the ecology and the watershed. The vegetation helps to protect the stream banks when it rains, and also prevent erosion. The plants also help to clean and purify the water and can even uptake many harsh chemicals. This helps to protect the fragile sea life just offshore. Replanting wetlands with native plants also provides a repository of genetic materials so that there are materials available for cultural uses as well as for future restorations in other wetlands. Replanting these areas are vital for protecting the watershed and preparing it to manage flooding events that will periodically flood this entire area.

Waiohuli Kai is close to several other wetlands. Some of these have been lost to development over the years. Here is how they looked back in 1963.

The wetlands in the Kalepolepo area in 1963

In earlier times there was a trail that circled the entire island called the King’s highway. Ke Alaloa o Maui, built by King Piilani and his son Kihapiilani, was effectively a highway that encircled the entire island. South Kihei Road follows the path of the Alaloa.  This allowed the Ali’i (royalty), people, soldiers, agricultural products, and tributes to be transported and exchanged along the coastline. There were also a number of trails like the Kalepolepo trail that linked coastal to upland settlements in the upper parts of each ahupua’a (makai to mauka).

Associated Fishponds: Waiohuli Kai is located adjacent to a complex of at least four Royal fishponds of Kula Kai. The cultural and historical context of these sites in unparalleled in all of Maui.

Wetlands and their associated fishponds

Rains reveal the underlying Hydrology: After heavy rains the underlying wetlands hydrology reveals itself. Dormant wetlands reawaken, and hidden wetlands are revealed.  In this photo you can see that an intentionally buried wetland is reappearing and a long hidden stream is being revitalized. These appearances of the underlying watershed features are a preview of what is to come with the current trend of climate change. It is also a reminder that you cannot keep nature hidden forever.

Wetlands reawakening after rain
Wetlands reawakening after rain

After the heaviest rains and floods the Waiohuli Kai stream flows to the ocean.

Waiohuli Kai Wetland Stream after a flood.  Photo D&SDorn