Why Clean Water for Reefs Matters

Clean water is vital—for communities and coral reefs. Around the world water pollution from land-based sources is killing our reefs—from cesspools and sewage pollution to contaminated runoff and pollutants.

Communities are taking action—on Hawai‘i Island, the small, but strong community in Puakō is setting out to change the trajectory for its coral reefs and, could set a precedence for community wastewater treatment state-wide.

Puakō Reef is one of the most significant reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) designated the South Kohala region, including Puakō, as a Coral Priority Management Site through its Habitat Blueprint initiative.

Coral cover has declined up to 50% since the 1970s on Puakō Reef

The Puakō community, alarmed by the changes to their reef, reached out to local scientists and the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) to evaluate the causes and find solutions on how to restore reef health.

A key challenge for wastewater treatment in Puakō is the proximity of residential properties to the shoreline, combined with the geology—very porous volcanic rock and high groundwater. This means that any polluted water released from residential treatment units can make its way to the reefs.

There are 88,000 permitted cesspools in residential properties in the State of Hawaiʻi—55,000 are on Hawaiʻi Island

Studies of this reef reveal that high levels of nutrients, bacteria, chemicals and pathogens enter the ocean from local cesspools. The overabundance of nutrients upsets the delicate balance of corals and causes an increase in algae and a loss of coral cover.

On February 1, CORAL and the Puakō community reached a major milestone with the release of a comprehensive Preliminary Engineering Report that supports the Clean Water for Reefs Puakō project. The report provides a thorough analysis of three potential wastewater treatment solutions for the Puakō community and a formal recommendation on the best option—an onsite treatment facility.

Together, we are taking important steps to protect and improve local threats to Puakō Reef. The Clean Water for Reefs Puakō project is just the beginning, and we are inspired by the community’s commitment to Puakō Reef. To learn more about this project, visit www.coral.org/puako.