For Immediate Release
May 31, 2014
West Maui, Hawai‘i—For some local and state leaders, Saturday began with a special tour of West Maui’s most precious natural and economic resource—our coral reefs.
Participants—a “who’s who” from within area government, hotel management, and other sectors critical to Hawai‘i’s future—donned their snorkel gear to explore both healthy and stressed reefs at Olowalu and within the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA), and learned how businesses, nonprofits, and agencies are coming together to protect these vital ecosystems.
Hosted by Trilogy Excursions, and coordinated by the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative, and the Division of Aquatic Resources, the half-day charter aimed to educate decision-makers about the values of and threats to reefs, and to engage them in developing ideas for continued and enhanced collaboration. When not underwater, participants learned about reef ecology, cycled through learning stations on some of the more technical aspects of conservation and management, and even checked out a virtual reef—a three-dimensional online reef developed by ReefQuest.org and its 15-year old founder, Dylan Vecchione.
“This was an invaluable opportunity for those who make decisions affecting our natural resources every day to join us on and in the water to see what’s happening to our reefs firsthand. Most importantly, the platform provided a chance to explore solutions together in a fun and informal setting and learn from each other’s expertise and experience,” says CORAL’s Hawai‘i Field Manager Liz Foote.
Elle Cochran, Maui County Councilmember for West Maui, shares that perspective. Cochran was impressed by the turnout of government representatives and other community leaders with diverse backgrounds, noting “I’ve never seen that happen before—such a wonderful meeting of the minds where we have all gathered together to learn about our reefs and share solutions.” She added, “how many of our decision makers literally get into the ocean to see our reefs with their own eyes? This was an amazing opportunity and I know it makes a difference for me personally to engage in conservation solutions after having this firsthand perspective to see the impacts of our activities, rather than just viewing photos or presentations.”
State and federal agencies have identified two watersheds within West Maui as priority areas for reef stewardship. The KHFMA is within one of those watersheds, and represents a new and crucial strategy for protecting reefs: protect the herbivorous fish that feed on potentially harmful algae. These priority areas are being managed through a multi-partner effort—the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative—that incorporates holistic resource management at the watershed level.
Opportunities like this tour that can inform, inspire and engage local leaders only strengthen efforts currently underway—and provide much hope for Hawai‘i’s coral reefs.