Optimism for the Future of Pelekane Bay With Yuko Stender
"It’s important because otherwise they give up, and I don’t want them to give up.”
It was nearly 15 years ago that Yuko Stender, Ph.D. student at UHM Geography Department, heard a story that would change her perspective of the future.
She was talking to a teacher, whose students participated in her marine education program.
She told Stender, that her young students who looked at the ocean and reefs posed the question, “Why should we care?” When all they hear about is how the environment is going downhill and the reefs are dying, why should they care about a future that already seems dismal? Stender was deeply saddened by the news.
The ability to engage people while enlightening them to positive actions they can take is an important aspect of Stender’s work. “It’s important to be aware of what’s happening, but at the same time, to think about, what can we do? It’s important because otherwise they give up, and I don’t want them to give up.” said Stender.
Stender, who has been working alongside Paul L. Jokiel, HIMB Coral Reef Ecology Lab, presented their research on responses to early coral settlers to environmental conditions at ICRS. It’s a watershed health project that is taking place in Pelekane Bay, West Hawaii. The bay has a long history of human alteration and water modification that can be traced back to the times of King Kamehameha I, which spans from the subsequent removal of native dryland vegetation to the introduction of grazing mammals in the watershed that accelerated soil erosion. This, along with the construction of Kawaihae Harbor in the 1950’s, has drastically reduced water circulation and deposited sediment that accumulated much faster than wave action could remove. This build up of sediments and reduction of water circulation has vastly impacted the reef.
Sedimentation is a major concern for nearshore fringing reef ecosystems, leaving Pelekane Bay listed by the state’s Department of Health (DOH)) as an “impaired water body” that is in critical need of restoration.
Their study of these impacts suggests that coral settlement is strongly affected by poor environmental conditions, making the inshore reef an unsuitable area for larvae settlement. Research showed “A considerable difference in the abundance and distribution of settlers by environmental conditions and habitat characteristics.” Proving that optimal environmental conditions are necessary for the success of early coral settlements. Stender remains optimistic for restorations in Pelekane Bay, stating, “I am hoping that this study will provide evidence for managers and policy makers to support proactive measures to minimize impacts of land-based sedimentation on reefs.”
Working together with the Kohala Watershed Partnership, restorations to the bay are being made by replanting vegetation, along with the removal of grazing mammals, especially goats. The challenge to further the bay’s recovery is a lack of funding, however this doesn’t trump Stenders hope. She’s seen and heard of success stories from other places like Guam who have experienced the same problems, and fully believes the restoration of Pelekane Bay is in Hawaii’s future.