Once known for an abundance of fish and edible limu (algae), Polanui Reef now boasts the lowest fish biomass in Hawai'i
Polanui Reef Once known for an abundance of fish and edible limu (algae), Polanui Reef now boasts the lowest fish biomass in Hawai'i © TNC

Places We Protect

Polanui

Island of Maui

Combining science and traditional practices to promote the recovery of coral and fish.

Spanning seven volcanoes, Maui Nui was once the largest of the main Hawaiian Islands. But over time, the island began to sink, sea levels rose, and the valleys between the volcanoes became submerged, creating the four distinct islands of Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i, and Kaho‘olawe.

Today, the shallow, fertile waters between these islands have the largest concentration of coral reefs in Hawai‘i, and the beaches of West Maui are consistently rated among the best in the world. So, it’s not surprising residents and tourists alike flock to the area.

It’s also not surprising that increasing pressures associated with large populations—such as development, unsustainable harvesting, and recreational use—are taking a toll on West Maui’s reefs and the fisheries they support. In fact, Nā Papalimu O Pi‘ilani, a reef off the coast of Polanui that was once known for an abundance of fish and edible limu (algae), now boasts the lowest fish biomass in Hawai'i, meaning its fish are smaller and fewer than all other sites surveyed across the state. Of course, the corals also show signs of decline.

Changing Course for a Better Future

Improved management can reverse these trends and create the conditions where both people and nature thrive. Polanui Hiu, a group of local residents and families, knows this and is leading the effort to improve management at Polanui. At their request, TNC conducted biological reef studies to inform their work and helped the group develop a Community Action Plan, integrating both traditional practices and modern scientific methods to promote the recovery of coral and fish. See what our surveys revealed.

But improved management requires more than a plan. It requires continuous monitoring to know whether management actions are having the intended effect and to adapt them when they are not. That’s why our teams also train and guide community volunteers in the use of scientific monitoring procedures. Some volunteer their services to conduct monthly fish abundance surveys for Polanui Hiu. Others volunteer with Hui O Ka Wai Ola to monitor water quality at about 50 sites in West and South Maui, including Polanui. The information these volunteers collect informs the wok of Polanui Hiu and other organizations working to restore health to Maui’s coastal waters. View survey results and monitoring data to see what we’re discovering.

To find out more about this work and get involved, contact Polanui Hiu or Hui O Ka Wai Ola.

Supporting Efforts Across Maui Nui

Polanui Hiu is a member of the Maui Nui Makai Network. The Network, which TNC supports, is comprised of community groups from Lāna‘i, Moloka‘i and Maui who use time and resources more efficiently and effectively by sharing knowledge and coordinating advocacy and education. 

Learn more about our sciencerestoration, and how we help strengthen conservation management and leadership so Hawaiʻi's reefs can support healthy fisheries and prosperous communities long into the future.

Lisa Agdeppa and Ekolu Lindsey
Polanui Community Leaders Lisa Agdeppa and Ekolu Lindsey © Manuel Mejia