Using Lessons Learned in Puakō, Hawai’i to Tackle Wastewater Pollution Worldwide

Photo Credit: Simon Hurry

Erica Perez, CORAL’s Senior Program Manager on Hawai’i Island, just wrapped up her time as a mentor during the new Wastewater Pollution course led by our partner the Reef Resilience Network (RRN)

Perez played an active role in helping students understand the threats of wastewater pollution on coral reefs and implement effective strategies to mitigate it from our oceans. She was selected to mentor this course, along with two other scientists, due to her expertise in wastewater monitoring and management with the local community on Hawai’i Island. 

Tackling Wastewater Pollution on a Global Scale 

Perez used her work in Hawai’i to lead panel discussions, as well as answer questions and guide students on an online forum. She shared methods of monitoring near-shore water quality, identifying sewage on coral reefs, and implementing a monitoring plan. Furthermore, she touched on the significance of community-based action and how residents, like the ones she works with on Hawai’i Island, can advocate to save their coral reefs. 

Around the world, many coastal communities are fighting for new sanitation measures to save coral reefs. At least 300 students from 32 different countries completed the Wastewater Pollution course, with participants ranging from different backgrounds, ages, and both scientific and nonscientific professions. “I was really excited to see the amount of people who want to monitor,” says Perez. “Word is getting out that you can monitor to create impact and change.” 

After completing the course, many students plan to take action. According to the RRN’s survey results, one participant from Brazil is now ready to conduct a baseline assessment and water quality program in Fernando de Noronha, while another participant from Puerto Rico will use social media to educate the local community about wastewater. 

“Coral reef populations have become so decimated,” says Perez. “In response, I believe that people want to act…not just sit back and watch.” 

Lessons Learned in Puakō

For years, Perez and the CORAL team have been fighting to save some of the most ecologically important coral reefs in Puakō, Hawai’i. 

Across the main Hawaiian Islands, it’s estimated that roughly 53 million gallons of raw sewage are released into the ocean from cesspools every day. Researchers conclude that bacterial levels on the Puakō coastline are not in compliance with the standards set by the Hawai‘i Department of Health—and that action must be taken. 

In response, we’ve partnered with the Puakō community to advocate for a wastewater treatment plant, with many residents understanding the vital impact clean water has on both their health and nearby coral reefs.

“I’m thrilled to share my knowledge after years of advocating for clean water in Hawai’i,” says Perez. “By bringing together our resources at CORAL and the educational tools at the RRN, I believe we will reach more people and create a larger impact worldwide.” 

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