18-month Kahoolawe restoration project is almost complete | News, Sports, Jobs – Maui News

Aug 3, 2022
The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission’s restoration team and volunteers work to plant native species, remove invasive plants, and improve water quality along the Kahoolawe coastline with erosion control devices as part of the 2021 Hakioawa Operation and Maintenance Plan which is close to completion. Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission photo
A restoration team is nearly done with an 18-month project on Kahoolawe, which is another step closer to achieving the vision of revitalizing the once barren island.
With the goal to restore native habitats and improve water quality along the coastline, the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission has been working to complete the 2021 Hakioawa Operation and Maintenance Plan, which was supported by funding through the Hawaii Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch.
“The KIRC staff is always grateful to work with our dedicated volunteers to restore and revitalize Kahoolawe. The opportunity to continue to work in Hakioawa with the support of DOH and see the outcomes that are possible with sustained commitment to a project area,” said KIRC spokeswoman Maggie Pulver on Tuesday morning. “Our volunteers have expressed their gratitude for and how much they gain from the experience working in the field on Kahoolawe.”
Pulver added that staff and volunteers often share how much they learn, not only about restoration and conservation work, but about themselves.
“The island, and working to restore it, offers its own reward to those who come to heal it,” she said.
KIRC’s 18-month project involved reducing sediment load and improving water quality in the Hakioawa Watershed by installing 20 check dams, along with inspecting and repairing wattles and irrigation lines that had been installed in the area during the previous DOH project. All was done in a 37-acre mauka work site.
All of the erosion control devices “were successful in capturing soil during the project period, ultimately reducing the sediment load entering the ocean by 28 percent,” as compared to results from a 2018 DOH project in the same location, Pulver said.
Studies from initial restoration efforts on Kahoolawe in 2004 showed that nearly 1.9 million tons of soil were lost from the surface each year due to erosion by water and wind. 
“By installing erosion control devices like gabions and wattles, we are able to catch that sediment and then plant seedlings in the collected soil,” she added. 
For decades, the small island endured uncontrolled grazing of sheep, goats and cattle before the land was eventually utilized by the U.S. Navy as a bombing range, which destroyed the top soil and any vegetation, according to KIRC. 
“This sediment ends up in the near-shore marine environment, smothering reefs and choking wildlife,” Pulver said. “Reducing the sediment load helps to maintain Kahoolawe’s pristine and healthy coral reef ecosystems and supports the wildlife that depends on that habitat. Also, a reduction in sediment load downstream means more soil remains in mauka areas.”
It wasn’t until 1977 that the Federal District Court ordered the Navy to conduct an environmental impact statement and supply an inventory of, and protect, the historic sites on the island. A few years later, the Navy started soil conservation, plant restoration, goat eradication programs, and eventually, the removal of unexploded ordnances. 
In 1981, Kahoolawe was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated the Kahoolawe Archaeological District.
Control of access to Kahoolawe was transferred to the State of Hawaii in 2003. With support from DOH, KIRC has been responsible for the restoration and sustainable management of the island until it can be transferred to a Native Hawaiian entity to manage.
In their recent project, Pulver said that they continued work on restoring critical habitat for native insects and animals through planting natives and removing invasive plant species, such as kiawe, koa haole, buffelgrass, bermuda grass, and fountain grass.
“The grasses are fire adapted and provide a large fuel load for wildfires,” she said.
During the past rainy season, from October 2021 to February 2022, more than 50 volunteers contributed 4,000 hours to out-plant 5,000 native Kahoolawe or Maui seedlings throughout the project site, she said.
KIRC works with local nurseries on Maui to mature the seeds into seedlings before bringing them to Kahoolawe to plant. Nurseries are chosen through a bidding process.
KIRC has had success working with Native Nursery and Ho’olawa Farms for rare and endangered native plants, and now a new nursery in Waiehu is starting to bid on Kahoolawe restoration projects. 
“So that’s exciting,” Pulver said. 
KIRC’s mission has been to realize the vision for Kahoolawe, where the physical manifestation of Kanaloa is restored, meaning “forests and shrublands of native plants and other biota clothe its slopes and valleys” while the ocean and healthy reef ecosystems surround and support the island, Pulver said. 
KIRC envisions Kahoolawe becoming a place of refuge and a sacred location where native Hawaiian cultural practices flourish once again, where the people of Hawaii care for the land in a way that “recognizes the island and ocean of Kanaloa as a living spiritual entity,” she added. 
The commission hopes that the island serves as a crossroads for past and future generations “from which the native Hawaiian lifestyle is spread throughout the islands,” she said.
In addition, KIRC is currently actively working on several initiatives, including two wetland enhancement projects and marine debris cleanups.
Supported by a North American Wetlands Conservation Act small grant, KIRC will be able to work in Kealialalo and Keanakeiki, two of Kahoolawe’s 11 known wetlands. The other project is supported by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Wetland Conservation grant and is focused on work in Honokanaia.
A marine debris clean-up project in Kanapou is also underway, funded by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Fishing For Energy grant.
For more information, visit http://kahoolawe.hawaii.gov.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]
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