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They’re tracking the health of Maui’s beaches ― one water sample at a time

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 4:00 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 1, 2021 at 5:09 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - They are regulars at Maui’s beaches. Volunteers in blue tshirts carry small buckets into knee-deep surf to collect water samples off south and west shorelines.

They are measuring water quality.

“Without those volunteers going out at 7:45 a.m. every day we wouldn’t be able to have such clarity on what’s going on with our water,” said Kim Falinski, lead scientist with the water testing program called Hui O Ka Wai Ola. The group has been surveying Maui’s beaches for the past five years.

The findings are unsettling.

“For the most part, everything that we measure exceeds the state standards,” volunteer sampler George Burnette said. “In other words, the quality of the water for all the various parameters is worse than what it’s supposed to be.”

The samplers use portable lab kits to field-test the water for clarity and contents.

“We test the salinity and the temperature, and we also test the dissolved oxygen level. There’s two parameters for that. And we also test the pH of the water,” Burnette said.

The monitors focus their efforts at 29 different spots that are affected by coastal erosion and the buildup of sediment.

“Some of it sadly is from the history of pineapple and other types of agriculture, and it’s stuck in the stream channels,” Falinski said.

“You see the beautiful water, and you see the whales come when it’s whale season, and dolphins. It’s easy to think there’s not a problem,” Burnette said.

Sampling also looks for nutrients in the water. The data goes to the state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch and to Maui County to help them guide shoreline management decisions.

“There are hope spots,” Falinski said. “Kapalua Bay for instance has recently had some wastewater infrastructure upgrades. We’re able to see that in the data where things are going down finally after time.”

Hui O Ka Wai Ola has a sister group on the Big Island. And it needs more volunteers to expand its water sampling program to Kauai and Oahu.

To learn more about its mission, click here.

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