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Maui’s first – and only – water quality testing lab is open

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

Island populations the world over are acutely aware of the human-made effects of the global climate crisis.

Two of our most precious resources — the sea around us and our potable water sources — are threatened. And so we are particularly grateful to have new faculty member Andrea Kealoha here at University of Hawaii Maui College. She knows a thing or two about water.

“I was born and raised in Paia,” says Kealoha, the fourth generation of her family to be so. “I was super into the ocean — surfing, diving, family parties were held near the water. We were always in or near the water.”

It never occurred to her, however, that she could turn her passion into a career. There were no oceanography classes when she attended King Kekaulike High School.

After a few years of “searching” for what she wanted to do, she returned to the thing she loved — the ocean.

She’d been talking to her dad about the changes she noticed in the health of the ocean and how it related to the health of the Hawaiian culture, her family, the future. She learned that UH Manoa offers a degree in global environmental science. So she got one.

“I had no intention of going past my bachelor’s,” Kealoha remembers. But she applied to the marine sciences master’s program at Hawaii Pacific University and was accepted.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors who afforded me opportunities to learn, explore and travel, including research trips to the Papahanau-mokuakea Marine National Monument. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” says Kealoha, “and the ecosystem is thriving and abundant. Those trips made me fall in love with research and strengthened my connection to my culture.”

And she didn’t stop there. Kealoha received her doctorate in oceanography from Texas A&M University this past June. She really wanted to come home, but didn’t know what she would do with her specialty: climate change impacts on coral reefs.

It was fortuitous that she contacted us when she did. We had just received a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant designed to help Native Hawaiian and Alaskan institutions conduct FANH research — to study food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences.

We knew Kealoha would make great use of it to address the water challenges Maui faces. She teaches oceanography — and is dedicated to building that curriculum — and also runs Maui’s first and only water quality testing lab, soon to be open on our campus.

“It affords multiple educational opportunities,” explains Kealoha. “We have a summer bridge program in water quality education for high school students, we have a college environmental technician certificate program, and we have an OCET Introduction to Water Quality class that’s open to members of the community. There’s a lot of interest. Most classes fill up and I’m hoping we’ll eventually serve between 100 and 200 people per cycle.

“The lab makes monitoring more accessible for permit holders who discharge waste into the ocean, farmers who monitor their agricultural water, and for conservation groups. For example, citizen groups like Hui O Ka Wai Ola that test water at beaches can now send samples here instead of having to test them on Oahu. We’ll also have the capacity to conduct research on our own waters,” Kealoha adds.

As a scientist, an islander, and a Hawaiian, Kealoha certainly doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the threats the climate crisis poses. But she is optimistic that individuals and communities can certainly make positive inroads.

“It’s intuitive that we want to protect our water resources. We rely on them,” she says. “I’m optimistic that our water quality education program and the water quality lab are going to be good for the college, the community and the Hawaiian culture.”

We think she’s right, because our lives and those of future generations of islanders depend on it.

If your business needs the services of water quality testing for nutrients or E.coli or if you are simply interested in the critical work that needs to be done to preserve our oceans and our fresh water, please contact Andrea Kealoha at andreake@hawaii.edu.

To learn more about all of UH Maui College’s programs of study, please visit maui.hawaii.edu/programs-of-study.

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D., is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “Sharing Thoughts,” appears on the fourth Saturday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.