The best place to snorkel from the shore on Maui is being threatened by “Olowalu Town,” a 1,500-home development plotted by two development groups. If they succeed in obtaining state and county permits, it will likely destroy the delicate reef at mile marker 14, midway between Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina Town.
The propsoed development is to be built upslope from the only healthy reef left on Maui’s leeward side, a popular spot for snorkelers, scuba divers and Olowalu kayak tours. Shoreline development has already destroyed 25 to 90 percent of Maui corals at Kihei, Maalaea and West Maui due to the effects from sediment and terrestrial runoff, especially during construction.
On April 23, 2012, the public comment period officially closed for the 1,000-plus page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which is currently under consideration by the state Land Use Commission (LUC).
Rushed and under-funded, the DEIS stated the development “will not have any significant negative effects” on this reef. It also found a total of 12 species of corals, but marine invertebrate biologist, Cory Pittman, who has studied the Olowalu reef for the past 34 years, has recorded 24 species of corals, many of them unique to this reef.
The Statement mentions “numerous small black-tip reef sharks” but doesn’t say that this area has been a nursery area for them for decades, one of the few in the entire state. Pregnant females know to come specifically to this area generation after generation to give birth due to its calm, shallow, protected water.
On April 21, Pauline Fiene, a diver and biologist with over 8,000 dives in Maui waters since 1987, submitted a 3-page comment on the Olowalu DEIS to the LUC staff, which eloquently describes the dangers Olowalu Town poses to the delicate coral reef. “There is simply no compelling reason for a major development here. It doesn’t even fit most of the criteria for urban designation, being that it is so isolated from services and other developments,” she stated.