WAIKIKI, Hawaii (KHON2) — The sludge at the bottom of the Ala Wai Canal near Jefferson Elementary School was 23 inches deep in July, 2021.

It has dropped by 18 inches since then and Genki Ala Wai Project technical advisor Hiromichi Nago said Genki balls are to thank.

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“Absorb the water and release the microorganisms, right? And that’s their food, they eat all our stinky, yucky stuff, that’s their food,” Nago explained.

Fish also like the microbes, Nago said their numbers are a telling sign. KHON2 asked Nago if the project is working in the Ala Wai.

“Oh man, proof is in the pudding! We can see all these large mullets coming around and you see a lot more baby mullets,” Nago said. “These mullets are getting bigger and bigger so, so exciting to see all that happening.”

The Lokahi Canoe Club sits right on the Ala Wai; They have some new friends during practice.

“I didn’t know what it was at first,” Lokahi Canoe Club racing coordinator Lee Buhre said. “And then it dawned on me, ‘Well, that’s got to be the fish.’ And they’re still out there cause we go out there and they, all of the sudden they’re all over the place.”

Nago said each one of the Genki balls can hold up to 33 billion microbes that eat the sludge at the bottom of the Canal. Folks in the area said their favorite part of the project is how the stench is practically gone.

“And you know, it’s weird because it used to always stink and everything. You’d say, ‘Well, we’re by the Ala Wai cause you could tell.’ But now, you just don’t have the smell anymore,” Lee said.

“Oh, I’m sure all the residents must be very happy about it,” Nago said. “Especially here at the Kapahulu end of the canal, it was really pea-green, you can’t even see to the bottom at the lowest tide, it would be really smelly, all the hydrogen sulfite ammonia smell.”

The project is about one year into its 7-year timeline to make the Canal swimmable. KHON2 asked Lee if he agreed with Nago’s positive assessment.

“I think so, I think it actually is. I, until somebody proves otherwise I’m gonna say yes, it’s working.”

Nago said since the Canal is almost 8,000 feet long, it is a big task with an even bigger reward.
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“Nainoa Thompson said, you know, ‘If you can show the world that we can take care of Ala Wai Canal, you can do anything,'” Nago said.