West Maui’s Coral Reefs

West Maui’s coral reefs are important sources of coral larvae that replenish reefs across Maui, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i, and Kaho‘olawe. Because of this, the area has been designated a priority conservation site by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

But West Maui is laden with historic sugarcane and pineapple plantations that are now out-of-use. During heavy rain events, the soil from these degraded landscapes travels down old dirt roads, enters stream gulches, and ultimately reaches the ocean where it smothers coral reefs.

Stormwater runoff is considered a major source of water pollution and has led to a 25-50% decline in Maui’s coral cover in the last fifteen years. It also regularly causes the Hawaiʻi Department of Health to issue “Brown Water Advisories”, which are warnings to the public to avoid swimming or fishing because of risks to human health.

Our Work

Our mauka to makai (ridge-to-reef) approach restores the natural function of an ahupua’a (watershed), so that chemicals, nutrients, and sediment are naturally removed from stormwater before they reach the ocean.

Toward the top of the mountain and in the midslope region, we use native plants—and over 100 supportive volunteers—to restore the degraded landscapes and trap the sediment before it has a chance to runoff into the ocean. We’re restoring the mauka (mountainside) with native plants like pili grass and natural materials like coconut coirs to slow the runoff, trap the sediment, and absorb the nutrients. 

On the coast, we work with resort property owners, the tourism industry, and Maui County to implement reef-friendly Low Impact Design (LID) landscaping that serves as a last-ditch effort to filter stormwater before it reaches the ocean. Looking for more details?

Get Involved

Volunteer

We’re always looking for local volunteers to help us grow native plants and reforest the mountainside. Volunteers grow native plants from seed at their homes. And once a month, we have a volunteer planting day where volunteers transplant native plants into the ground at our restoration site. Interested? Sign up by completing our volunteer interest form, and a member of our team will contact you shortly. Before volunteering at our field site, you will also need to complete the volunteer waiver.

Become a Citizen Scientist

Through our partner organization, Hui O Ka Wai Ola, volunteers collect water quality samples around the island to improve our understanding of Maui’s coastal areas and threats to coral reefs. Visit the Hui O Ka Wai Ola website to become a water quality sampler. 

Recent News

Using Native Plants to Protect Coral Reefs

In West Maui, Hawai‘i, CORAL’s Senior Program Manager Jennifer Vander Veur shares how our actions on land can impact what happens under the sea. Run-off sediment is threatening nearby coral reefs and making it harder for them to survive. To address this problem, Vander Veur leads our efforts to protect coral reefs by using native… Continue Reading →

coastline in maui hawaii

CORAL Joins Maui Nui Makai Network

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is honored to join the Maui Nui Makai Network—a network of community groups from across Maui Nui that protect and care for marine and coastal ecosystems. The network was established in 2013 when community organizations decided they would be stronger working together than separately. Network members meet regularly to learn… Continue Reading →

Dirt road waiting to be restored in Maui, Hawaii

Talking Story About Maui’s Coral Reefs

Last month, we were honored to be selected by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) as a recipient of the Coral Reef Conservation Fund grant, our second in as many years.  The grant supports our restoration projects in West Maui, Hawai‘i where we’re planting native plants along stream banks and degraded agricultural lands to… Continue Reading →

Plant a Tree, Save a Coral

Jen Vander Veur is fighting an uphill battle to save coral reefs on the slopes of West Maui’s mountains. Jen is CORAL’s Program Manager in Maui, and she’s leading the charge on restoring Maui’s once lush forest to stabilize the soil and protect coral reefs downstream from being smothered by sediment, reversing the effects of… Continue Reading →

CORAL’s Partnership in West Maui

CORAL is excited to announce a new partnership with Skye Instruments, LLC to benefit our Clean Water for Reefs Initiative in Maui. Earlier this month, our team installed two weather stations in the Honokōwai and Wahikuli watersheds. Skye Instruments generously donated a weather station for each of the watersheds we are currently working on restoring in the… Continue Reading →

Resources
Guide

How to Build a Rain Garden to Filter Stormwater

Building a rain garden can be an effective, low-cost tool to reduce stormwater pollution reaching our streams and the ocean. This guide outlines how to build a new rain garden, but you can also use these guidelines to improve water filtration within your current landscape by retrofitting existing flower beds or gardens.

Case Study

Installing a Curb-out Raingarden

A rain garden is a landscaped depression in the ground that is designed to collect stormwater runoff from rooftops and other impervious surfaces. This case study documents the process of building a rain garden along a heavily trafficked road—the Kā‘anapali Parkway—used to access a popular resort in West Maui, Hawai’i.

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