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The Maui Chapter's Blue Water Task Force

The Maui Chapter's Blue Water Task Force program generates data to inform safe recreation and protect clean water on Maui’s North Shore. 

Last March, the Surfrider Foundation Maui Chapter performed their first sampling run to launch their new Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) water quality monitoring program. The chapter has teamed up with Professor Donna Brown and her marine biology students at the University of Hawai'i Maui College to conduct monthly testing of 18 beaches and streams along the North Shore of Maui.  The science students are gaining valuable, real-world experience by participating in the BWTF program, and the chapter is benefitting from the professional oversight of Professor Brown and the use of her lab space.  

The Maui Chapter chose its BWTF sampling sites to complement the beach monitoring program run by the Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH), which provides weekly monitoring of 10-15 beaches islandwide. The chapter is testing beaches popular for ocean recreation and stream mouths that discharge onto the beach. While these streams are potential sources of pollution, especially during Brown Water Advisories, they are also used recreationally for wading and paddling.

Through the efforts of the BWTF programs on Kauai and Oahu, Surfrider has formed a good working relationship with HDOH in recent years. Surfrider’s BWTF programs provide notice to HDOH of beaches and recreational waters that are showing signs of chronic pollution, and we have worked together to develop signage and outreach materials to inform the public of potential health risks from swimming in polluted waters. The new BWTF program on Maui builds on this collective success by providing citizen-generated water quality information to inform safe beachgoing and ocean recreation on Maui’s North Shore. Read more about Surfrider’s efforts to work together with the state to provide public health protection at Hawaii’s beaches here.

The Maui Chapter was also motivated to start their BWTF program because major changes in land use are coming as 36,000 acres of former sugarcane agricultural land is coming out of production in the watershed that leads down to the popular north shore beaches. While the Maui Chapter successfully joined forces with the Protect Pe'ahi Coalition in 2016 to preserve 267 acres of former sugar cane fields, the fate of tens of thousands of acres is still uncertain. The Maui Chapter wants to ensure that future management decisions for the former sugarcane land do not put the North Shore beaches or local water quality at risk. New potential uses being considered include residential and resort development, more conservation efforts and other forms of agriculture including organic gardening and cattle farming. To inform this decisionmaking, the chapter’s BWTF program is building a baseline record of water quality information to help the local community and elected officials make sustainable choices for the future of their North Shore community.

During the first year of testing, most of the Surfrider Maui Chapter’s test results have demonstrated safe water quality conditions. However, one site where high bacteria levels have been problematic is Maliko Bay. The bay is a popular launching spot for downwind stand-up paddleboarding and for boats and jet skis going to the iconic surf spot, Pe'ahi (also known as Jaws). Many fisherman and divers favor this beach as well, as do families with children who play in the water near the launch site. When the chapter measured extremely high bacteria levels at Maliko Bay in December, the BWTF volunteers alerted the Department of Health. The state performed follow-up testing to confirm the chapter’s results, and they worked together to ensure the site was posted with warning signs where recreational users would see them and be warned of the health risk.

Concerned about sustained high levels of bacteria at Maliko Bay this winter, the chapter is now supporting an internship for one their student volunteers, Amy Frate, to conduct a pollution source assessment study. Under the direction of her professor, Dr. Meagan Jones at University of Hawaii Maui College, Amy will perform extensive testing within the Maliko Gulch watershed to identify bacteria hotspots. There are a number of potential sources of pollution in this watershed, including stormwater runoff, cesspools, a household dump site, a pig farm, and herds of feral goats and pigs.  

Across the state, cesspools are one of the biggest contributors of pollution to ground and surface waters. Surfrider has supported recent legislation to ban new cesspools in Hawaii and to create incentives to replace cesspools with better septic systems, but more community outreach and planning is needed before more solutions are in the ground. The Maui Chapter hopes that their watershed study will provide useful information to build community awareness of the pollution problem at Maliko Bay and will generate the political will to identify and fix the problems. The chapter is also proud to be doing their part to help ensure that surfers, swimmers and paddlers have the information they need to safely spend time in the water at local beaches. With only one year out of the gate for this new program, the chapter’s accomplishments are thus far impressive. Visit the BWTF website to view a map of Maui’s sampling sites and all of their data.