HONOLULU (KHON2) — Mala Wharf reopened on Saturday to recreational boaters and experts are eager to figure out what the water quality is like post-fire.
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University of Hawaii researchers from Maui and Manoa are sampling the waters around Mala Wharf and Lahaina Harbor to see if the toxic ash from the fire is harming the ecosystem.
“There’s a few things we’re concerned about and my role is to measure metals,” explained Nick Hawco, assistant professor at the Dept. of Oceanography at UH Manoa. “I want to measure things like lead, copper, and a few other things that could have been in people’s houses or on boats that burned.”
The team is led by Andrea Kealoha and they are also measuring toxins and particles created by the fire.
“Every day the coral reefs take a deep breath and produce photosynthesis they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen and our goal is to monitor that breath throughout the next year or longer but that will indicate what the impact on the reefs are,” Hawco explained.
He said visibility wasn’t the best, but there were fish and turtles swimming.
“I think its too soon for us to tell, I mean the water is definitely cloudy by the harbor but that’s not abnormal in itself but we have the samples so we’ll see when those come back,” he added.
He said results could take months, but it’s a race against the clock to prevent runoff from pushing toxic ash into the water.
“We know that creates turbid waters and it blocks out photosynthesis,” he said.
“It would have catastrophic impacts on marine life,” said Susan Frett, Pacific Whale Foundation Conservation and Outreach Manager.
The Pacific Whale Foundation has been using their boats and taking the UH researchers out to conduct their studies and have formed their own outreach program. They started at Mala Wharf.
We’re monitoring things like invertebrates, fish, and taking photos of corals to analyze what we see,” Frett explained.
Maui County has approved applying Soiltac to reduce impacts to peoples health and the environment. The EPA started applying the soil stabilizer to residential properties around Kelawea Mauka before school begins.
The county said properties near shorelines will be prioritized due to the potential runoff risk.