“ ‘Āhihi‐Kīna‘u is the only State Natural Area Reserve in Hawai‘i that encompasses the ocean."
Established in 1973 and located on the southwest corner of Maui, Āhihi-Kīna‘u Natural Area Reserve has the unique distinction of being the first in the statewide Natural Area Reserves System, the only reserve to encompass the ocean, and the only area on state lands where an entire lava flow is protected from its source to the sea.
Natural Area Reserves were established by the State of Hawai’i to protect the best representative samples of intact ecological and geological systems in the state. The NAR designation exists to preserve these areas in perpetuity as safe havens for natural and cultural resources—the primary goal of management.
Well over half of this 1,238-acre reserve consists of submerged lands, and its ecosystems include globally rare anchialine pools, distinctive coastal habitats such as sheltered bays, tide pools and fishponds, and coral reefs.
Anchialine pools are surface brackish‐water pools, fed underground from both marine and fresh water sources, and lack a surface connection to the sea. Hawai‘i is home to the only natural representatives in the U.S. and has the largest concentration in the world.
Āhihi-Kīna‘u’s reefs are home to a wealth of coral, invertebrate and fish species, and protected species such as hawksbill and green sea turtles, spinner dolphins and humpback whales frequent its waters. The entire marine portion of the reserve falls within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
The reserve’s other resources are also worthy of the protection the Reserve offers. In addition to an historic lava flow, they include important Hawaiian cultural sites, remnant native leeward shrublands and forests, and unique endemic plants and insects.
‘Āhihi‐Kīna‘u is the most heavily used of the State’s 19 Natural Area Reserves, receiving as many as 250,000 visitors annually. Its easy accessibility and popularity have resulted in damage to its natural and cultural resources.
Rocks spray-painted with graffiti , human waste in pools, Illegal fishing and poaching, and harassment of endangered marine mammals led the State in 2008 to restrict access to portions of the reserve to prevent further damage and to allow its resources to rest and rejuvenate.
Non-native, invasive species are also degrading the reserve. Introduced goats and deer devour native plants, while cats and mongoose dine on native plant seeds and native birds and eggs. The reserve’s reefs and marine life are at risk from land-based pollution, illegal harvest, introduced species, and from the potential impacts of climate change, including coral bleaching and increases in ocean acidity.
What the Conservancy Is Doing
‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u has the highest level of legal protection of any marine area in the main Hawaiian Islands, but needed an updated management plan that addressed current issues, especially human uses. In 2008, the State asked the Conservancy to fill that gap and lead a community planning process. Together with a diverse advisory group comprised of local residents, government employees, cultural practitioners, volunteers and scientists, Conservancy staff and other stakeholders met more than 15 times over a two-year period to craft the ‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u management plan.
The five-year plan captures the best thinking of the citizen-government working group on how to comprehensively protect and preserve the reserve. The plan documents the history of the reserve, outlines its current condition, the threats to its resources, and provides recommendations, including managing access, to balance the needs of people with the need to protect the reserve’s natural and cultural resources.
The Conservancy is continuing to collaborate with managers to secure State approval of the plan and begin implementation.
The Conservancy's community-based marine work on Maui is made possible through a cooperative agreement with NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.