Maui Community for Clean Oceans: Citizen-Based Water Quality Monitoring in the Hawaiian Islands

For years, reports on Maui’s coastal water quality have concluded that it’s worse than anywhere else in Hawai‘i. Of course, Maui’s locals and tourists depend on these waters for their livelihood; any hope for healthy coral reefs also depends on healthy waters. While Maui’s land and sea dwellers are reliant on—and impacted by—the quality of these waters, water quality sampling resources for Maui Nui (the islands of Maui, Molokai, Kahoʻolawe and Lanai) were stretched thin.

In response, a concerted partnership of four organizations—The Nature Conservancy, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, the University of Hawai‘i Maui College and the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative (a NOAA partner)— along with over a dozen dedicated volunteers, founded Hui O Ka Wai Ola. The program, meaning “Association of the Living Waters,” is filling a critical data-gathering gap. Their mission is to continuously ensure the consistent collection of long-term water quality data—data that follow an official Department of Health quality assurance plan.

The citizen-driven partnership currently includes 22 sampling locations in West Maui and boasts dozens of trained volunteers who collect samples every two to three weeks. The program is currently expanding to include South Maui, which will bring the total to 46 sampling locations and dozens of more volunteers.

The Hui O Ka Wai Ola project recently uploaded 4,200 data points to the EPA database, allowing regulatory agencies to make quality assessments, and the data have already been used in academic studies. Findings will also guide future management decisions for protecting Maui’s waters and the projects’ results and lessons learned are informing managers throughout other regions of Hawai‘i and in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and American Samoa.

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Trained volunteers follow Hawaii Department of Health approved practices for filtering and bottling water samples
Trained volunteers follow Hawaii Department of Health approved practices for filtering and bottling water samples. Credit: West Maui Ridge to Reef (R2R)