The Maui Ocean Water Quality Monitoring Program celebrates the 100th sampling session

Participants in the 100th sampling ceremony at Hanakaʻōʻō Beach Park in Kāʻanapali. PC: Ty Freiberg

Video Credit: Carl Rozycki via Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

Hui O Ka Wai Ola, Maui’s volunteer-based marine water quality monitoring program, celebrated a special milestone: its 100th sampling session since the program began on Maui in 2016.

A beach ceremony held Tuesday morning at Hanakaʻōʻō Beach Park in Kāʻanapali was organized by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative and The Nature Conservancy, the three organizations that co-founded and co-managed this unique community program.

Approximately 40 Maui residents were in attendance, including program volunteers and local VIPs, including State Representative Tina Wildberger, Maui County Councilor Tamara Paltin, and Maui County Executive Secretary Sandy Baz, who each offered comments and congratulations to the volunteers and staff .

A sampling session takes place over the course of a week and typically involves about a dozen volunteers waking up before sunrise and fanning out in groups of three or four in cars loaded with water quality monitoring equipment to collect seawater samples along Maui’s leeward coast collect and test.

Councilor Tamara Paltin with longtime Hui O Ka Wai Ola volunteer Kit Harris testing water samples while Representative Tina Wildberger looks on. PC: Ty Freiberg

Organizers say sampling sessions will take place every three weeks. Each West Maui sampling session includes 16 sites spanning from Papalaua Pali to Honolua. Each sampling session in South Maui includes 13 sites from Mā’alaea to ‘Āhihi Kīna’u.


Tuesday’s celebration included the presentation of gift certificates donated by Duke’s Maui to the program’s volunteers and a ceremonial collection and testing of seawater samples by longtime volunteers Kit Harris and George Burnette. A demonstration of how to test the water samples for sediment, temperature, pH and other factors followed, conducted by Harris, Burnette, Rep. Wildberger and Councilman Paltin.


Representative Wildberger had volunteered for the Hui O Ka Wai Ola Monitoring Program before being elected District 11 Representative for Kīhei, Wailea, and Mākena.

The 100th sampling also had a special significance for Councilor Paltin. She, along with then-West Maui resident Dana Reed, helped ignite the spark that led to the creation of the community-based marine water quality monitoring program after the couple observed an unusual increase in brown water events at DT Fleming Beach in 2013-2014.

Longtime water quality monitor volunteers Kit Harris and George Burnette collect a water sample from the ocean as part of the 100th sampling ceremony hosted by Hui O Ka Wai Ola. Photo by Ty Freiberg.

“Big brown clouds appeared at DT Fleming, even without much rain, causing beach closures,” said Reed, a retired electrical engineer who now lives in Pennsylvania. “One day I saw another brown cloud and I said, ‘That’s it! I need to investigate.’”


Reed had learned how to test seawater for turbidity in a class taught by Donna Brown at the University of Hawaii Maui College. She grabbed the sample bottles given to her in class and began collecting samples. There she met Paltin, who was a lifeguard at the time.

Paltin shared that she too was concerned about the brown water plume and photographed it and sent it to Watson Okubo, director of the Department of Clean Water at the Department of Health. Their sampling data was not accepted as they did not have a quality assurance project plan to ensure the integrity of the data.

Undeterred, Reed and Paltin began regularly documenting water quality at DT Fleming by collecting data from water samples and photographs, including aerial photos taken by Reed’s husband, Bill Rathfon, with his drone.

Reed said that Paltin would sound the alarm – “the creek is running brown” – and Reed would rush over to get water samples. Paltin also regularly sampled bottles at her lifeguard station so she could collect samples during her breaks.

Paltin served on the Marine Nui Marine Resource Council’s Clean Water Committee and, along with Reed and Rathfon, presented data and images from DT Fleming to the group.

Someone who had hiked up the slope to understand where the sediment runoff came from reported that a site being prepared for Mahana Estates development appeared to be the source of the runoff.

The project manager of Mahana Estates was invited to meet with the Marine Resource Council’s Clean Water Committee and to visit the site. She reported that the developer had put up sediment fences and barriers to control the runoff but had trouble holding them in place because they kept breaking.

The Department of Public Works said the developer was following county best management practices and requested baseline data to compare current water quality issues at DT Fleming to previous years when the issue did not occur.

This data did not exist. But Paltin, Reed, Rathfon and Maui Nui’s Marine Resource Council persisted in putting the spotlight on the problem — and eventually a county engineer, a health department official and the developer visited the site and saw the source of the sediment. The result was a county-mandated shutdown of the project for more than a year and an improvement in the county’s BMPs.

“From this experience, I realized the importance of water quality data — including the need for baseline data — on all of our Maui beaches,” said Reed, who attended the ceremony from her home in Pennsylvania. “At the time, the Department of Health’s Clean Water Division had only one person surveying water quality for all of Maui. They suggested that we start a citizen watch group.”

The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council and The Nature Conservancy partnered to host Carl Berg, a research scientist who has worked on water quality issues on Kauai, to learn how to create a community-based water quality monitoring program here.

He told the groups they needed to create a quality-assured project plan that would meet EPA requirements and state Department of Health standards for projects that involve the collection and analysis of water samples.

This led to a meeting with the Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, The Nature Conservancy, the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative, and other community environmental groups to create a water quality monitoring program for Maui to discuss.

The result was the creation of Hui O Ka Wai Ola, the “Living Water Association,” to be managed through a partnership of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative.

The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council has agreed to act as a fiscal sponsor of the program and oversee its finances and payroll. A National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant received by The Nature Conservancy helped fund paid positions for Reed and Kim Falinski to create the program in West Maui and purchase water sampling equipment. A second grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, later awarded by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, enabled the program to expand to southern Maui.

The QAPP was developed over a two year period by Reed, Falinski and Scott Lerner of The Nature Conservancy. The Department of Clean Water of the Ministry of Health signed the QAPP and the first official samples of the new Hui O Ka Wai Ola program were collected in June 2016.

Volunteers have signed up to receive the required training and commit to the early morning sampling sessions.

“People didn’t join for fun. They joined because it was important to them,” Reed said. “I’m amazed at how many good people we’ve gotten to stay with us. People are so engaged. I’m so impressed.”

At each sampling site, one of the volunteers wades in knee-deep water and fills several containers with seawater. The citizen scientists use portable laboratory equipment to analyze the samples for pH, dissolved oxygen concentration, salinity, and turbidity. The water quality samples are transferred to indoor laboratories for additional testing. Further testing for nutrients is performed on samples that are frozen and shipped to the University of Hawaii labs at Mānoa.

Today, the Hui O Ka Wai Ola program manages data collected at 40 Lee sites that has been made available to the Department of Health’s Clean Water Division for inclusion in reports to the EPA and state and local agencies. New data is currently being collected from 29 coastal sites in west and south Maui.

Senior Team Lead Tiara Stark (left) describes the water testing steps performed by (left to right) Team Lead Nalei Sampson, Maui County Council’s Tamara Paltin and longtime volunteer Kit Harris (in green shirt) during a celebration of the 100th Sampling were conducted session of the Hui O Ka Wai Ola Seawater Quality Monitoring Program. Photo by Ty Freiberg.

Dozens of volunteers have worked with the program since its inception, including Hawaii State Representative Tina Wildberger and Maui resident Kit Harris. The program has four part-time employees: Senior Team Lead Tiara Stark and Team Leads Meredith Beeson, Mitch Brown and Nalei Sampson.

Retired biophysicist Cathy Maxwell is the organization’s technical advisor and Bill Rathfon is the data manager. Hui O Ka Wai Ola is led by a steering committee made up of representatives from the three partner organizations, along with Dana Reed and Kim Falinski, the Quality Assurance Advisors.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Lahainaluna High School, Da Hawaiian Store, and Pineapple Properties LLC provided the group with free space for their indoor labs. The County of Maui has provided funding along with local businesses, foundations and groups including: National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Duke’s Maui, Makana Aloha Foundation, Nāpili Bay and Beach Foundation, Media The Foundation, EACH Foundation, North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund , Maui Ocean Center, Hawaii Tourism, LUSH and EcstaSea, and individual donors.

Hui O Ka Wai Ola also provides annual presentations to the community on water quality conditions along Maui’s leeward side and has expanded its efforts with new equipment and testing methods to further identify the sources of water quality degradation along Maui’s shores.

“I haven’t seen the same type of brown water events on the beach at DT Fleming in a long time,” said Jim Maxwell, MNMRC board member and HOKWO volunteer.

“This is an incredible story about the power of citizen scientists and how people can work together to achieve a goal,” said Newbold. “We are grateful that the people of Maui care so much about seawater quality.”

*Courtesy of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

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