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Community Partners and Volunteer Energy Help the Blue Water Task Force to Expand Across the Island of Maui

Since its first sampling run in 2017, the Maui Chapter’s Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) has transformed into a well-known and respected source of coastal water quality information with the help of their community partners and a growing team of volunteers. The Maui Chapter started its BWTF program to establish a baseline of water quality conditions at 18 popular North Shore beaches as the fate of 36,000 acres of former sugar cane land was being decided. The previous year, the chapter worked successfully with a coalition to preserve 267 acres of this former agricultural land along the Hamakua Coast and wanted to generate data to help inform smart land-use planning throughout the watershed.

The Maui Chapter initially teamed up with Professor Donna Brown and her marine biology students at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College to process all water quality samples. This arrangement was ideal for the chapter when the program first started as Professor Brown provided technical oversight and training for the chapter volunteers. The logistics, however, proved difficult to maintain, especially as COVID-19 restrictions limited volunteer access to the university campus and lab. Toward the end of 2021, the BWTF Coordinator for the Maui Chapter, Greg Masessa, found a new home for the chapter’s lab equipment at the Pāʻia Bay Youth and Cultural Center. Centrally located on the North Shore, the new lab space offers convenient access for chapter volunteers and opportunities to interact with other community groups and local youth that also use the Youth and Cultural Center.


Over the last six years, the chapter has been diligently working to build awareness of its program and local water quality conditions. All of the chapter’s data is posted online and volunteers send out water quality reports through email and social media after each monthly sampling event. These reports are often covered by local media outlets, such as Maui News. With the support of the Hawaiʻi Regional Manager, the chapter also releases an annual report that describes trends in its water quality data to further inform safe recreation and beachgoing, and to build awareness of local pollution problems.

All of this promotion reaped high rewards last year as the chapter successfully recruited four new volunteers to the program to help collect samples and perform the lab work. After an evaluation of its sampling sites, the chapter decided to eliminate seven of the sites on the North Shore that overlap with the state’s beach monitoring program and nearly always test clean. The chapter has redirected its growing volunteer capacity to sample four new beaches on the South Shore of Maui. These new sampling sites are affected by runoff, have cesspools in their watershed, and were selected after surfers expressed concerns of getting sick or smelling sewage while out in the water.


Last year, the chapter was also approached by ‘Aunty Mary’ Ann Kahana who lives in the rural community of Hāna on the east side of the island and is a board member of the community group Ke Ao Hali'i (Save Hāna Coast). After hearing about the BWTF program, she was hoping to have some of her local beaches tested as well. Mary lives on generational land at Haneo`o, Hamoa Village. She represents the Piʻilani ʻohana of Hāmoa and she is continuing her grandpa George Kanawai Pi`ilani’s legacy of protecting, loving and respecting the lands of Hāna.

Her request was both a challenge and opportunity for Greg, the chapter’s BWTF Coordinator. The road to Hāna is 64-miles long, has hundreds of curves and easily takes two hours to safely drive. The chapter did not have volunteer capacity to transfer samples from the Hāna sites to the lab in Pāʻia each month. Greg, however, wanted to find a way to make it work as Hāna is home to a large, native Hawaiian population and, like communities throughout Hawaiʻi, it is strongly connected to its coastal resources and beaches. Hāna also has a high concentration of cesspools, but it’s so remote that the state is unable to include it in its regular beach monitoring program.   

Greg worked with Mary to recruit eight local volunteers to participate in the program. She even arranged to have the samples transported to the lab in town by the local FedEx driver. Four sampling sites were also chosen, including two popular beaches, a traditional Hawaiian fish pond and a freshwater swimming hole. Everybody had to stay in close communication to ensure that the samples arrived at the lab within the method’s required sample holding time of six hours or less.  


Photo above showing Haneo`o fish pond

Due to the challenging logistics, the chapter’s goal was to establish a new lab in the local school to make it easier and to engage students in the program. When another monitoring group from the west side of Maui, Hui O Ka Wai Ola, donated their unused lab equipment to the chapter, Greg happily worked with a high school teacher to set it up in her classroom at Hāna High School. Greg trained the teacher and her students on proper sampling and lab techniques and now they are able to collect and process their own samples. 


Photo above showing Maui BWTF Coordinator demonstrating laboratory analysis methods to high school students and their teacher

The Hawaiian word “laulima” literally translates to “many hands” and describes the value of cooperation and people working together. The Honolulu Civil Beat has recently featured the growth and expansion of the Maui Chapter’s BWTF program as a demonstration of the power of community working collectively to protect coastal water quality throughout the island.

These water quality monitoring efforts would not be possible without the support of partnerships throughout Maui. Sincerest mahalo to Brando and team at the Pāʻia Youth and Cultural Center who willingly opened their facility to house the Maui Chapterʻs new lab. Thank you to Auntie Mary and her hui of community members who are dedicated to the preservation of the Hāna coastline and the donation of lab equipment by Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. And an ongoing thank you to the students at Hāna School and high school science teacher Brianna Craig for continuing to collect and analyze water samples in Hāna. 

Visit the BWTF website to see where the Maui BWTF is testing and view their results.