Land Trust Seeks Kahanui Wetland Acquisition

By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter 

The Kahanui wetland is up for sale, and a local nonprofit, Molokai Land Trust, is gearing up for a possible acquisition in hopes of managing and restoring the area. This 45-acre property sits on the southern coast of Molokai about three miles west of Kaunakakai. 

Butch Haase, executive director of Molokai Land Trust, explained that MLT is hoping to “intervene and secure these lands for the community.” 

The Kahanui wetland, which once was intended to be an oyster and pearl farm, plays a critical role in Molokai’s food and water ecosystems, as well as occupies a culturally and historically significant space. 

The wetland area is both a part of the coastal flood plain and can hold millions of gallons of fresh water. The property plays a key role in the “sustainability and vitality of our communities,” explained Haase. 

Restoring this wetland area could lead to possible benefits like supporting fish populations and kalo ecosystems, cleaning and filtering water, reducing sediment runoff and flooding, regulating soil moisture and protecting the coastlines, according to MLT. 

Likewise, restoring the Kahanui wetland would have positive cultural benefits as well.

While currently overrun by invasive species like mangrove and kiawe, there is historic photographic evidence of a time when the area was well-maintained. Several photos from 1910 show a much different Kahanui wetland. Instead of sediment and mangrove, the land is clear.  The 600-year-old ‘ume’iki fishpond wall, now buried, extends unencumbered towards the ocean. It is this condition which MLT hopes to restore. 

MLT currently manages the 1,718-acre Mokio Preserve and the Kawaikapu parcel of 196 acres. 

At a community Zoom meeting on Feb. 15, Molokai residents got a preliminary overview of the MLT proposal. 

“This is all built on the feedback that we’re going to get from this process,” explained Haase, adding that this meeting “is just the very first step.” 

In addition to Molokai Land Trust, the Kahanui project has support from the newly formed Molokai Wetlands Partnership. This partnership includes collaborative efforts from the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Pacific Birds, Ka Ipu Makani, the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Forestry and Wildlife Division and other organizations.  

Helen Raine, the conservation coordinator for Pacific Birds, explained that “MLT staff will then work with stakeholders and community leaders to exchange information with the local community on restoration options for the site. There will be lots of volunteer opportunities during the restoration phase and beyond.” 

These efforts to purchase and restore Kahanui have also received government support. Maui County Council Member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez is “very supportive” of the project aims. This support materialized into $210,000 last Friday when the county council approved a bill that will help fund the land purchase.  According to The Maui News, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has awarded $401,000 towards the Kahanui wetlands purchase as part of $1.5 million in federal grants. This brings the total of allocated funding for the project up to $656,000. 

The hope, explained Haase, is that the site will function as a “mechanism to engage other community organizations and individuals interested in these types of cultural practices to have a place and partnership in developing that vision and that model of how this space is going to evolve.” 

This is just the start of the conversation around this issue, said Haase, adding that Molokai Land Trust will host a “series of community meetings once we secure the land to begin developing a vision for the restoration and stewardship of the site.”


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