County Mapping Molokai’s Wetlands
By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter
Maui County is seeking to protect wetlands across the county, and to do that, it needs to know where they’re located. In response to a recently passed ordinance, the county is in the process of creating a new map of wetlands on Molokai.
“The purpose [of the map] is to protect and restore wetlands. You cannot protect and restore something if you don’t know where it is,” explained Shahin Ansari, an ecologist contracted by the county for the project.
Ansari explained that the new map will offer the public a “functional perspective on a wetland.”
The project was started in March 2023 and is slated to finish in October of this year. Currently, the county is producing the first of three drafts of the wetlands map, which will then be available for public comments.
One purpose of identifying wetlands will stop residents from accidentally building in a potentially flooded area. This is especially significant with rising sea levels, according to Ansari.
This county map, taking this into account, will allow the public to access information on what areas might become wetlands, as well as which current wetlands are primed for restoration.
Much of what the county is doing now is centered on community feedback. While the county has a method of mapping based on existing soil, hydrology, vegetation, land use and sea level rise data points, they are also asking for Molokai residents to help identify wetlands.
At last Thursday’s robustly attended community meeting of residents, representatives from Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez’s office, Sust’ainable Molokai, the University of Hawaii and more, the county had printed out several large maps of Molokai.
Part of the meeting included time for attendees to mark certain areas where there might be potential wetlands.
Jacky Takakura, who is the county contractor for this project, explained that they are “just in the very starting of this process, that’s why we want to hear from you.”
Takakura also explained that she intends for the wetlands map to be a “living document” updated every five years.
Some Molokai residents had concerns about additional potential layers of bureaucracy and regulation surrounding land use.
According to Takakura, the county map will not affect access for activities like hunting, fishing or gathering.
The map “doesn’t change the uses that are allowed by zoning…the only time it would change the use is if the use contradicts the wetlands protections,” said Takakura. It is “a wonderful tool to help people know about their land.”