Hui O Ka Wai Ola Ocean Water Quality Testing Program Expands Again – Now Testing 48 Maui Sites

The volunteer-based Hui O Ka Wai Ola ocean water quality testing program has expanded again, with the addition of 12 more testing sites in South Maui in early March 2018.  With this expansion, the program is now covering 48 shoreline locations where trained volunteers routinely test water quality on Maui every 2 to 3 weeks.

The Hui O Ka Wai Ola program, whose name means “Association of the Living Waters,” is the first community-based water quality monitoring to measure for nutrients (including nitrogen and phosphorus), along with turbidity, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH and temperature in Maui’s coastal waters.

The program first launched in June 2016 in West Maui with 17 sites. One West Maui site was added in February 2017 (Napili Bay), and 6 additional West Maui sites were added in June 2017.

The program expanded to include a dozen new test sites in South Maui in November 2017. The latest expansion in 2018 added another 12 South Maui sites. In all, the group of volunteers are testing 48 sites on Maui.

A Partnership at Work
The program is made possible through the volunteers’ efforts and a joint partnership of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, The Nature Conservancy, West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative and the State of Hawaii Department of Health. Financial support for the program is provided by the partners, along with the County of Maui Office of Economic Development, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund, Napili Bay and Beach Foundation, Pride of Maui, Maui Ocean Center and individual donors and supporters

“Our goal is to support the State of Hawaii Department of Health and Maui County efforts to improve coastal water quality so that coral reefs and native fish populations thrive, and our residents and visitors are safe,” said Robin Newbold, co-founder and chairwoman of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “We want to help identify problem areas, so remedial action may be taken as needed.”

Trained Volunteers and a Quality Assurance Plan
To prepare for the expansion in March, a group of ten new volunteers completed intensive training in the classroom, in the lab and in the field. The volunteers work under the guidance of experienced team leaders and regional coordinators. The sampling follows strict guidelines set under a Quality Assurance plan approved by the Department of Health. A QA officer reviews the data before it is submitted.

The volunteers bring equipment to the field for onsite testing; they also freeze and ship water samples to the SOEST (UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology) laboratory on Oahu for additional analysis.

Poor Water Quality Undermines the Health of our Reefs
Hui O Ka Wai Ola’s program tests water samples for nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous compounds, which can indicate pollution from wastewater and runoff from agriculture, landscaping and golf courses. High nutrient content in the water can cause an increase in growth of invasive algae, which could damage coral reefs.

In addition, research has shown that sustained, nutrient rich, lower pH submarine groundwater discharging onto nearshore coral reefs off West Maui lowers the pH of seawater and exposes corals to nitrate concentrations 50 times higher than normal. Rates of coral calcification — the rate at which coral polyps produce calcium carbonate which forms the hard structure of the reef — are substantially decreased. As a result, the reef degrades faster and the reef ecosystem is more likely to collapse.

“With many of Maui’s coral reefs in significant decline, it is critical that we reduce stressors to our reefs on a local scale as quickly as possible,” notes Tova Callender, coordinator supporting the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative. “Our water quality studies will help us understand the source of pollutants, which is the first step in addressing the stress to the reefs caused by impaired water quality and will hopefully make our reefs more resilient to climate change.“

Data provided by Hui O Ka Wai Ola will be used to supplement Health Department water quality monitoring on Maui and can be viewed on the group’s website,

A State of Hawaii Department of Health employee tests water quality for enterococcus bacteria, a marker for potentially harmful bacteria in the water, The additional nutrient data provided by Hui O Ka Wai Ola provides an enhanced view of changing water quality conditions that can harm coral reefs and humans.

Community Support Sought
The cost of testing for each site is about $3,800 per year, which includes analysis and the shipping of samples to Oahu. Maui Nui Marine Resource Center is asking companies, canoe clubs, community organizations and individuals to each sponsor a site with a $3,800 donation. To donate, visit

The goal of Hui O Ka Wai Ola is to bring more awareness to local coastal water quality issues and support better-informed decisions and policies regarding water quality.

To learn more, visit

1 Comment

  • Alex Beers 6 years ago

    I’m really concerned about radiation levels in the ocean from Fukashima. Are you guys considering this?

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