Meeting will explore using oysters to improve water quality in harbor

Amy Hodges, programs manager at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, displays shells of oyster species that were considered for a proposed pilot project to use the mollusks to help improve ocean water quality in Maalaea Harbor. -- Maui Nui Marine Resource Council photo

The public is invited to Maui Nui Marine Resource Council’s monthly meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday for a free presentation on a proposed plan to use oysters to improve ocean water quality in Maalaea Harbor. The meeting will be held at Pacific Whale Foundation’s classrooms at the Maui Harbor Shops, 300 Maalaea Road in Maalaea.

The presentation will be offered by Rhiannon “Rae” Tereari’i Chandler-Iao, executive director and Oahu waterkeeper for Waiwai Ola Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands. Doors will open at 5 with complimentary holiday-themed refreshments. The presentation will include time for questions and comments from the public.

Oysters are filter feeders that remove pollutants from the water column, including sediment, bacteria, heavy metals, PCBs, oil, microplastics, oxybenzone and other harmful sunscreen-related chemicals. Oysters also digest the type of bacteria that cause skin-borne illnesses such as Staph and MRSA. These oysters are for restoration; they cannot be consumed. Oysters for consumption are grown only in clean water.

Oysters are currently at work in harbor waters of New York and New Jersey, where Waterkeeper Alliance member projects have installed more than 42 million oysters to help clean the water and protect the coastline from wave action. Similar efforts are also being employed in Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay to improve ocean water quality.

Pacific oysters, the type of oyster considered for the pilot project in Maalaea Harbor, were originally introduced by the state in the 1950s and 1960s and are found in locations throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Adult Pacific oysters can filter more than 50 gallons of water per day.

The proposed pilot project would involve the installation of approximately 1,000 oysters in cages beneath the docks of Maalaea Harbor away from boat traffic. Trained staff and volunteers will monitor the oysters to evaluate survival rates and their success in improving water quality. At the end of one year, the pilot project will yield a report to help determine the feasibility of expanding the project within the harbor.

Maui Nui Marine Resource Council is partnering with Waiwai Ola Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands to conduct the one-year pilot oyster project in Maalaea Harbor. The project is part of MNMRC’s overall plan to address land-based impacts to water quality in Maalaea Bay.

At the meeting, MNMRC will provide information on new volunteer opportunities associated with this project, including helping MNMRC regularly monitor the oysters and clean the cages to remove excess algae.

To learn more, visit www.mauireefs.org.

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