We created a network of partners on Hawai‘i Island to launch a robust, volunteer-based water quality testing program and began monitoring sites around the island.
In 2018, CORAL began building a local group on Hawai‘i Island to monitor water quality. Since then, Hawai‘i Wai Ola has grown to consist of eleven different organizations, volunteer community members, and scientists who champion water quality issues on Hawai‘i Island.
The group’s plan was to launch a volunteer team this summer that would regularly collect water quality samples in Kona, Hilo and South Kohala. Their efforts would bring a more robust and consistent understanding of water quality issues across Hawai‘i Island and gather data that could help inform policy and spur action within the local government.
Early this year, they launched a website and started building a targeted communications campaign to recruit volunteers. But when COVID-19 hit, the volunteer program was put on hold and in-person training was canceled. As case numbers continued to rise on the island, it became near impossible to allow groups of volunteers to gather in a safe manner to sample, let alone to be trained.
Led by CORAL’s Hawai‘i Island Program Manager Erica Perez, the team quickly pivoted so as to not lose momentum. They began converting their volunteer training program into a digital format so they could still train volunteers. And by June, they had started collecting water quality samples on their own without volunteers.
They were able to collect three-months-worth of data at 16 sites around the island before the beaches closed in September, and now that beaches have reopened, they’ll be able to collect two more months of data before the end of the year.
The data collected between June and September are a blessing in disguise—the islands were closed to tourists during that time and very few people were using beaches. The low-use period will give us an opportunity to understand what water quality looks like without tourists, an opportunity we wouldn’t have had if 2020 hadn’t presented so many challenges.