KIHEI - State and county officials met at Waipuilani Beach Park on Thursday to test a "super sucker" that could help rid Maui beaches of invasive, smelly algae.
The device sucks up decomposing algae, allowing it to be removed for composting. Piles of algae along Waipuilani Beach have plagued neighbors with a rotting smell, leading to complaints. This week's testing by the county, University of Hawaii Botany Department, state Department of Health and Department of Land and Natural Resources is part of a feasibility study to determine if the county will use the technology to clean up beaches on a large scale.
"Basically it's like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up the algae right out of the water," said Mayor Charmaine Tavares.
Chelsea Kau, 9, of Wailuku lends a hand to the algae cleanup near a “super sucker” hose Thursday morning at Waipuilani Beach Park in Kihei.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
To use it, workers first have to push the algae to an isolated area of shallow water, where it can be sucked up through a very large hose, drained and then sent to Maui Nui Botanical Gardens or local farmers for composting. Sand and water will be separated from the algae and returned to the beach.
"Rather than trying to take the hose into the water and try to chase the algae around, we let the beach catch the algae, scoop it into a pile and put it back into the water in a confined area," said Brian Parscal of the UH Department of Botany. "We let the water rinse the sand off the algae by using a vacuum pump that sucks the algae and leaves the sand behind."
"This is a lot more beach-friendly, in that it returns the sand back to the beach and only takes the algae," Tavares said.
The offending algae is Hypnea musiformis, an invasive species introduced to Hawaii in the 1950s and '60s that found its way to Maui about 20 years ago, said Russell Sparks of the DLNR Aquatics Division. The algae grows very quickly, and one small piece can produce an entire colony.
"Because of that, it spread across the state," he said, "Within nine, 10 years it was on every island."
Currently, the Maui Sunset Condominium Association pays for the algae to be scraped off the beach and piled next to the park's restroom to decompose. But that just leads to more algae, Tavares said.
"When you pile it up and dry it out, eventually the next rain washes the decomposing algae back into the water so that the algae grows even faster," she said.
The device being tested is a smaller variation of the original "super sucker." According to county Environmental Coordinator Kuhea Paracuelles, the original machine on Oahu is a much larger offshore barge used to suck algae out of Kaneohe Bay.
Maui's smaller sucker "is nowhere near the strength of the super sucker," she said.
But she said testing would show if it was the right size for Maui.
"We don't want to overdo it," she said. "We want to do what would work, what's most efficient, and that's why we're doing these studies. We want to work out the kinks and not do overkill."
* Steven Tonthat can be reached at email@example.com.