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Garbage on its way to ocean collected, bagged in Maalaea

Maui Nui Marine Resouce Council hosts gulch cleanup prior to rainy season

Michael Stark drags a car hood Sunday during a ditch cleanup hosted by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. Photos courtesy of Tiara Stark

To help protect marine wildlife and water quality in Maalaea Bay before heavy rains sweep the Valley Isle, a group of volunteers met Sunday to clean up trash and debris in a nearby ditch that empties into the ocean.

The half-mile-long Maalaea gulch located off Honoapiilani Highway is home to a lot of garbage, broken appliances, car parts and plastic. One stormwater event can push that debris straight into Maalaea Bay, said cleanup orgainzers.

“Trash and debris flowing into the ocean is a threat to marine life and coral reefs,” said cleanup coordinator Tiara Stark on Sunday afternoon. “Small pieces of trash are more likely to be carried long distances and be ingested by wildlife because they’ll think it’s food and then also larger pieces of debris can kill wildlife.

“There are cases here on Maui and in Hawaii where Hawaiian monk seals have been killed due to marine debris.”

The cleanup event, which was hosted by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, ran from 8 to 11 a.m. Sunday. Due to COVID-19, volunteers signed up for one or more one-hour time slots to ensure social distancing.

Volunteers collect over 40 bags of trash between 8 and 11 a.m. Sunday from the Maalaea ditch, which accumulates small and large debris throughout the dry season and discharges the garbage into the ocean during the rainy season.

A total of 14 volunteers and two staff members gathered about 40 or more trash bags full of garbage, not including the large debris like tires and a car hood that needed to be dragged out, Stark said. 

About ten bags were filled with trash within the first hour from a 200-foot area. 

“Majority of the trash blows in because Maalaea is like the windiest part of the island, and because of the highway and the cars,” she said. “All this stuff during dry season just starts accumulating in this ditch and then during the rainy season, when it’s raining up the mountain, that can result in large flash floods or just really strong water flow and basically carry all this trash into the bay.

“There’s a lot of problems with that.”

The Pohakea Watershed includes the Pohakea, Maalaea, Kanaio and Malalowaiaole gulches, as well as the Waihee ditches, she said.

Maalaea Gulch, which is linked with the Kanaio Gulch, begins about 1,800 feet up, flowing east towards Honoapiilani Highway. The gulch enters through a culvert and discharges into Maalaea Harbor. At least three other small gulches flow east to the highway before entering culvert systems that discharge into the harbor.

Stark said that trash, human waste, toxic materials or other items that get left behind and carried downstream can kill fish and other marine animals, damage coral reefs, and make humans sick.

Other things like sediment and pesticides can flow down into the ocean through streams and stormwater events, she said.

“That sediment can directly smother coral reefs and it can also block sunlight from them,” she added. “It can also lead to an excess of nitrogen in the water which can result in algae blooms and mess up the balance in the ecosystem.”

The last cleanup in the Maalaea ditch hosted by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council was in 2018. Stark hopes that they can create a “marine debris project” to host more trash sweeps and prevent more pollution.

“There really is so much trash that is in and around the Maalaea area and in other streams,” she said. “I’m hoping we do more, but right now there is no concrete plan.”

For more information about the resource council, visit mauireefs.org.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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