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Maunalua Bay Project Receives Economic Stimulus Funding to Remove Invasive Algae

NOAA funds will create 73 new local jobs to help restore marine habitat


HONOLULU, HAWAI'I | June 30, 2009

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today that The Nature Conservancy and Mālama Maunalua’s Invasive Algae Removal project will receive support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to create 73 new jobs and restore healthy marine habitat in East Honolulu’s Maunalua Bay.

The Conservancy’s Hawai‘i chapter and Mālama Maunalua, a local grassroots organization, will work with state and federal partners to implement a large-scale invasive alien algae removal program as the necessary first step to restore habitat in the Kuli‘ou‘ou reef flats of Maunalua Bay. The project scales up three years of volunteer efforts to pull invasive algae out of the bay.

NOAA is providing $3.4 million for the jobs, equipment, supplies, and scientific studies necessary for the two-year project.

“This support comes at a critical time for both the environment and the economy of Hawai‘i,” said Suzanne Case, executive director of the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i chapter. “This money will be passed directly to our community, putting people to work to restore a vital marine resource for the people of Hawai‘i. Our residents need jobs, and our reefs need a break from the alien algae that are smothering them. There’s no better investment in our State than to improve the health of our near shore ocean, which is a source of food, recreation, and income for many. We’d like to thank President Barack Obama, the Congress, the Hawai‘i congressional delegation, and NOAA for their support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and for recognizing the importance and value of Hawaii’s reefs.”

The project will create 73 new positions, most of them full time, including as many as 60 invasive algae removal positions for 14 months, and additional positions for monitoring the impact of the project. The funds also provide support for a portion of time spent by Conservancy and Mālama Maunalua staff to help manage the project.

Invasive Algae Threaten Hawaii’s Reefs
Invasive alien algae have been identified as one of the biggest threats to Hawaii's coral reef ecosystems. Sedimentation from land-based sources helps invasive algae establish on reef flats. Compounding the problem, fishing pressure has dramatically reduced populations of plant-eating species like parrotfishes, surgeonfishes, manini and sea urchins. Once established, invasive algae drastically alter the seabed by smothering and killing corals and seagrass meadows. They also overwhelm and destroy habitat for other reef life.

Project Will Remove Acres of Algae
The introduction of Avrainvillea amadelpha (mud weed) to Hawai‘i was first reported in 1981. Since then, it has overgrown much of Maunalua Bay’s once productive shallow reef flats. Recent surveys by state biologists have identified 54 acres of dense mud weed infestation.

In response to this threat, the Conservancy and Mālama Maunalua will work with contractors to hire dozens of workers to remove mud weed from 22 acres of the most affected areas. If this project is successful, the Conservancy and Malama Maunalua hope to find funding to continue it until most of the remaining invasive algae are gone. The goal is to restore the bay to the point where it can naturally control the growth.

Volunteer Effort Shows Removal Works
In the last three years, community volunteers have removed more than 25 tons of invasive algae from Maunalua Bay. The cleared areas have remained free of algae, and scientists are finding growing evidence of the return of native species.

“By removing this slow-growing invasive alga, we can return the natural habitat in these restored areas,” said Alyssa Miller of Mālama Maunalua. “We are out every week with volunteers and we need more help. The NOAA funds will enable us to take this community effort to scale so we can bring this once thriving bay back to life. But in order to have a sustained effect on the bay, we also are going to have to attack this problem from the land and reduce what’s flowing into the bay that’s helping these algae grow.”

Groups Address Other Threats to Bay
Restoring the bay for the long term will mean addressing other threats. The groups are trying to reduce sedimentation into the bay by working with the Army Corps of Engineers on redesigning the sediment catchment basin in the Kuli‘ou‘ou watershed. Mālama Maunalua will develop an education program to advise residents about the role they can play to reduce pollution in the bay. The groups also are working with fishers to find ways to restore fish populations.

Conservancy Projects to Provide Jobs Nationwide
In addition, the Conservancy received funding for seven other coastal restoration projects across the United States, to restore and protect coral reefs, oyster reefs, seagrass beds, salt marshes, salmon streams, and floodplains. Marine habitats such as these provide people and nature with a variety of essential services such as water filtration, protection from the effects of natural disasters and storm surges, fisheries, as well as economic and recreational opportunities.

“During the selection process, NOAA received over 800 proposals totaling more than $3 billion in requests for restoration funding, with $167 million in NOAA funding available,” said Lynne Hale, Director of the Global Marine Program at The Nature Conservancy. “This overwhelming response demonstrates the profound need for increased restoration and the stewardship of our oceans and coasts,” added Hale.

For nearly 10 years, the Conservancy and NOAA have worked in partnership to implement community-based restoration projects at sites across the United States. The projects selected under ARRA will employ nearly 450 people who will devote more than 500,000 hours of labor to the engineering, project management, contracting, planting, and monitoring associated with completing these eight projects over the next two- to two-and-a-half years. The Conservancy will begin work immediately in Alaska, Alabama, California, Florida, Hawai‘i, Louisiana, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia and Washington.

For more information about the Maunalua Bay project and the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i chapter, visit: http://www.nature.org/hawaii. For more information about Mālama Maunalua, visit: www.malamamaunalua.org. For more information about the Conservancy’s global marine work, visit:  www.nature.org/marine.For NOAA information related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, visit: http://www.noaa.gov/recovery/.

Mālama Maunalua is a community-based organization focused on conserving and restoring Maunalua Bay through community kuleana. Mālama Maunalua's vision is: a Maunalua Bay where marine life is abundant, water is clean and clear, and where people take kuleana in caring for and sustaining the Bay. www.malamamaunalua.org


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.

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