Coral reefs in West Maui are reported to have declined by as much as 50 percent. Similar declines are evident throughout much of Maui County.
Large-scale coastal development over the decades has resulted in an increase of pollutants that have impaired the quality of our ocean waters and negatively affected our marine ecosystem. Simply put, coral reefs aren't always appropriately valued when decisions are made about land-use and marine resources.
"Improved reef health" was formally established as a policy objective for the County of Maui when the County Council approved the Maui Island Plan by ordinance last year. To fulfill that objective, the Maui Island Plan says the county should "implement a Reef Protection Restoration Plan."
We are fortunate that experts and concerned community members are already working on this issue. The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council has established a Marine Coral Reef Recovery Team to develop a practical plan for the technical and cultural restoration of Maui's coral reefs.
The team will make a presentation Monday at 1:30 p.m. to the council's Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. A resolution urging the council's support for this plan, known as "Ola Na Papa I Malamaia," is on the agenda. The plan is intended to carry out four goals and 16 associated objectives by 2015.
In testimony to the council on Sept. 30, Sarah McLane, executive director of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, noted the plan is a product of two years of dedicated research and deliberation, with participants from all levels of government, academia and nongovernmental organizations, as well as cultural advisers and ocean users.
Among the most problematic land-based pollutants identified by scientists in nearshore waters are nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and sediment.
Nutrients cause massive algae growth, which leads to the depletion of oxygen available for other sea creatures, triggering a biodiversity decline in affected areas. Algae blooms block sunlight, which hurt the corals' ability to survive.
Sediments are particles from coastal-land developments, which include fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and human-derived sewage. The sedimentation increases turbidity in the water, affecting the corals' ability to obtain necessary energy.
Reducing stressors is one of the most direct ways to improve the reefs' resiliency.
Implementation of the plan has already begun in some priority areas in West Maui. Some initiatives include design for a constructed wetland, a rain garden in a beach park, and analysis and design for improvements on a dam.
As chair of the committee, I've scheduled this discussion to bring public awareness to the reefs' plight and to show how the county is a vital partner in the implementation of the team's plan. Success will require a unified effort among government entities and the private sector. Public support and participation are critical.
Preserving our waters is as significant as preserving our lands. We must be stewards of our precious coral reefs, just as we are for the aina. I look forward to hearing your comments in the Council Chambers Monday afternoon.
* Elle Cochran holds the County Council seat for the West Maui residency area. She is the chair of the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. "Chair's 3 Minutes" is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.