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Lending a Hand from Sea to Land

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 12/17/2010 More stories >>

Malama Maunalua’s Kimo Franklin (left) and CTAHR’s Ted Radovich (right) contemplate the fate of a mountain of invasive seaweed cleared from Maunalua Bay.

Malama Maunalua’s Kimo Franklin (left) and CTAHR’s Ted Radovich (right) contemplate the fate of a mountain of invasive seaweed cleared from Maunalua Bay

Most of us today know Maunalua Bay as an evil-smelling mudflat choked with dark, ropy seaweed. Oldtimers, though, may remember it as a rich food source, when commercial fishing was banned and the catch limit for people living in the area was 30 fish and 5 lobster, per person, per day. While there have been many changes since then, one major contributor to the bay’s neardemise has been the encroachment of the invasive alga leather mudweed (Avrainvillea amadelpha). According to Kimo Franklin, site coordinator for Malama Maunalua, removing the mudweed is the first step to bringing abundance back to Maunalua Bay.

Maunalua isn’t the only area threatened by invasive algae, nor is it the only place CTAHR is helping to restore. Carl Evensen (NREM), Janice Uchida (PEPS) and Brent Sipes (PEPS) recently took their Introduction to Environmental Science students to beleaguered-but-recovering Kane‘ohe Bay to collect half a ton of the stuff as part of the course’s service-learning activity, which CTAHR’s Sustainable and Organic Farm Training program students took to be composted as well.

Maunalua isn’t the only area threatened by invasive algae, nor is it the only place CTAHR is helping to restore. Carl Evensen (NREM), Janice Uchida (PEPS) and Brent Sipes (PEPS) recently took their Introduction to Environmental Science students to beleaguered-but-recovering Kane‘ohe Bay to collect half a ton of the stuff as part of the course’s service-learning activity, which CTAHR’s Sustainable and Organic Farm Training program students took to be composted as well.

In 2006, several organizations teamed up with local community members to begin removing the invasive mudweed. The volunteers got a boost from federal Recovery Act funding awarded to The Nature Conservancy by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and now 50 Pono Pacific workers are clearing 23 acres for this “Great Huki” project. So far, nearly two million tons of algae have been removed. And the project is working: Areas that have been cleared have stayed clear—for over 2 years so far—and native marine life and birds are being seen regularly by residents and visitors alike.

The next question was what does one do with all that muck? This is where CTAHR’s Ted Radovich and Nguyen Hue came to the rescue. In partnership with other organizations, including NOAA, the Nature Conservancy, Malama Maunalua, Aloha ‘Aina ‘O Kamilo Nui, and Pono Pacific, CTAHR teamed up to formulate a plan to compost the invasive algae. Aloha ‘Aina ‘O Kamilo Nui/Chrysanthemums of Hawaii provided space to drop the algae and create compost piles, tended by volunteers. While CTAHR researchers search for the best formula to decompose the invasive algae, some has already been distributed directly to several farmers for use in growing crops, produce and ornamental plants—with good results. ‘Uala—sweet potatoes, a crop for which the Kamilo Nui area is historically known—has been planted using the compost and the ‘uala is flourishing. Growing food on the land while helping to restore a habitat for native species in the sea—that’s taking the traditional concept of ahupua‘a and making it work in a brand-new way!