Early success highlights need for protection

The Maui News
July 20, 2015

By EILEEN CHAO - Staff Writer

It's been six years since the state established the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area in north Kaanapali, and experts say key species of herbivores, such as parrotfish (uhu), rudderfish (nenue), surgeonfish and urchin, have shown signs of recovery.

"I think there's been early signs of success, but reef recovery is a long-term process so it's really important that the site continues to be protected and people learn to follow the rules," said Liz Foote, executive director of Project S.E.A.-Link. She said that researchers have reported preliminary data show an increase in the biomass of parrotfishes and surgeonfishes along with stabilization in coral cover.

But large-scale recovery for coral often takes decades, she said.

Project S.E.A.-Link, the state Division of Aquatic Resources and other members of the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative will host a "Ridge to Reef Rendezvous" from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Kahekili Beach Park (Old Airport Beach). The free event gives the community a chance to learn about conservation efforts in West Maui while offering games and the fourth annual ocean-themed culinary contest, for which entries must be checked in by 9:15 a.m.

The Division of Aquatic Resources will host a catch-and-release papio fishing tournament this year. Check-in for tournament participants begins at 8 a.m.

Foote hopes the event will help the public better understand why it's critical that the herbivores in the reserve are protected, whether from fishing or from land-based stressors.

"These species are valued for their ecological service to the reef. By eating the algae and keeping it from dominating the coral, they help improve the reef's resilience in the face of the many other stressors that threaten it, particularly the impact of excessive nutrient runoff from land," she said.

The reserve stretches about two miles from Black Rock up to the south end of Honokowai Park. In the protected zone, it is unlawful to kill, injure or harvest any urchin, rudderfish, parrotfish or any of the 24 species of surgeonfish found in Hawaii, including kole, manini and yellow tang. Also banned is the feeding or deliberate introduction of any attractant, except while fishing for permitted marine life.

"The goal of the KHFMA is to restore natural grazing processes and ultimately, therefore, to increase the local reef's ability to resist and recover from excessive algal growth that is detrimental to corals," according to The Nature Conservancy's website on reef resilience programs. The conservancy partners with the West Maui Ridge 2 Reef Initiative to help mitigate negative impacts to coral reefs.

The reserve was created after repeated summertime blooms of the invasive red and green algae threatened to smother the Kahekili reef in the late 1990s, according to the website. Scientists noticed that coral cover declined significantly beginning in 1999 and in the following years as algal blooms continued to occur during summer.

The herbivores found in the area eat the algae that threaten the coral, which is why experts have worked so hard to protect those species.

"The KHFMA has rules that protect herbivores, but it's still open access for folks to come and use the beaches or to fish for other species, within the existing (state) rules and regulations," Foote said.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources passed new bag and size restrictions for Maui in September that limit the number of uhu and goatfish each fisherman is allowed to take.

Sponsors of Saturday's event include the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Honua Kai West Maui Community Fund, Maui Brewing Co. and the Korelski family. Several West Maui resorts, restaurants and tour companies have also donated their services for the event.

For more information, go to www.facebook.com/KaanapaliMakaiWatch, send email to KaanapaliMakaiWatch@gmail.com or call 669-9062.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.

Original article URL: http://mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/600209/Early-success-highlights-need-for-protection.html