Karin Stanton/Hawaii 247 Contributing Editor
Pelekane Bay is getting some much needed TLC, thanks to a dose a federal stimulus money.
The restoration project kicked off Monday, Aug. 17 at an invite-only reception attended by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.
Pelekane Bay traditionally was a sheltered place for young fish to grow and mature, fed by streams from Kohala Mountain. The ancient heaiu of Puukohola National Historical Park overlook the bay, with Spencer’s Beach Park to the south and Kawaihae Harbor to the north.
With the introduction of exotic plants and animals, the mauka watershed deteriorated and sediments are dumped into the bay every time there is a storm.
Add decades of ranching, development, feral goats and the occasional devastating wildfire, and the land above the bay now is largely barren or covered with the invasive fountain grass.
This led the Kohala Watershed Partnership – with the sponsorship of The Kohala Center – to spearhead the project, apply for the NOAA grant and turn a 2005 restoration plan into action.
To fund the project, the partnership received $2.69 million in federal funds through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coastal restoration grant, which in turn is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Allen Tom, NOAA regional director, said he was delighted to see the federal funds benefiting the such a significant Big Island site.
“It’s huge, especially because it’s such a community based effort,” he said. “There is only one other project like it and that’s in the Mariana Islands. This is a great project for Hawaii.”
Inouye said he pleased to see the stimulus funds at work.
“It’s such a small amount of the active stimulus,” he said. “It’s one of those projects that people talk about doing. This is getting done.”
The senator said he expects the Pelekane Bay Watershed Restoration Project to have great benefits.
“We will provide jobs and in the process save the bay. If you don’t fix the whole watershed, you lose the bay,” Inouye said. “It’s a win-win.”
The first step of the 18-month project is to clean up Pelekane Bay and reduce the amount of sediment moving in to the estuary from the watershed, said Melora Purell, KWP coordinator. That process will begin on land, with crews constructing fencing, eradicating fountain grass and building sediment dams in ravines and gulches.
“The coral reef is being choked by the sediment,” Purell said. “We want to reverse the degradation of the watershed, and work with the natural systems to reduce the sediment moving into the bay.”
The federal funds mean Purell can hire a team of 15 — field crew, field technicians, and an outreach assistant — although she also will be relying on land owners and some volunteer work.
The designated watershed area includes pastures, stream corridors, and remnant native dry forest owned by Queen Emma Land Company (6,600 acres) and state Department of Land and Natural Resources (390 acres), all leased to Parker Ranch.
Other landowners include Ponoholo Ranch, Kohala Preserve Conservation Trust, state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Laupahoehoe Nui LLC, Kahua Ranch and Kamehemeha Schools.
“The remarkable thing is that this is a voluntary coalition of public and private resources,” she said.
Matt Hamabata, executive director of The Kohala Center, said the restoration project fits the non-profit’s mission to champion environmental research and education that support a sustainable future for the island and the world.
“The Pelekane Bay Watershed Restoration Project is one of two Hawaii habitat restoration projects and one of just 50 selected nationwide from 814 proposals to receive stimulus funding from NOAA,” he said. “We always strive for excellence, and it is very satisfying to see the KWP team receive this award because they excel at what they do. Succeeding because of merit means that we expect the very best of ourselves, so that we can deliver the only very best for Hawaii.”
NOAA is funding only one other project in Hawaii through the ARRA Coastal Restoration grant program.
The Nature Conservancy received $3.4 million for its Maunalua Bay Reef Restoration Project on Oahu. That project will generate 73 jobs to implement a large-scale invasive alien algae removal program as the first step to restore marine habitat in the Kuliouou reef flats.
Pelekane Bay Watershed Restoration Project goals
* Restoration of 400 acres of native vegetation along 6 miles of stream corridors;
* Restoration of 100 critically-eroding sites (13 acres of erosion control fabric and grass plantings, 1,450 acres of watershed impacted) with at least 50 sediment check dams protecting four miles downstream of check dams;
* Installation of 100,000 native plants; and
* Construction of 20 miles of goat-proof fencing to create 11,750 acres free of feral goats.
Work will begin immediately and is expected to be completed by December 2010.
Also on Monday, Inouye was the keynote speaker at a luncheon sponsored by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.
The senator also paid his first visit to Puukohola National Historical Park, which overlooks Pelekane Bay.
Inouye toured the park’s visitor center, which includes historical and educational material, as well as ancient Hawaiian tools, weapons and everyday items.
The visitor center opened in August 2007.