Maui residents are already living with the reality of climate change and sea level rise.
This summer they faced a massive wave that sent water onto coastal roads, leading to road closures. In the weeks that followed, accelerated coastal erosion exposed iwi kupuna, or ancestral skeletal remains, along a western Maui coast.
But there are a number of things the county government can do to protect some of Maui’s beach parks and adapt, even as water creeps in for years to come, a new study commissioned by the county has found.
“This is new. Nobody knows exactly which way is right,” said Jennifer Maydan, a Maui County planner, of the push to protect the county’s beach parks from climate change. “But we have to use data and science to inform us.”
Maui County recently unveiled a study examining how sea level rise could change the landscape and residents’ ability to use dozens of parks from East Maui to Molokai. As part of the study, which is still ongoing, the government has created an online tool that allows residents to search for their favorite beach park on an interactive map and learn how each place could withstand rising sea levels.
The study looked at 65 county parks, which are expected to face some sort of long-term shoreline change. The big question the study sought to answer is which of those parks could face the greatest threats and what actions the county can take to protect Maui’s precious natural resources.
“We are examining what the threats are and identifying steps to proactively plan the evolution of these parks,” Maydan said.
In Maui County, residents are keenly aware of the many threats to the islands’ beaches, from private landowners blocking gated access to dikes of homeowners protecting a property at the expense of their neighbors. These tensions are expected to escalate only as communities grapple with receding shores in the decades to come.
Over the past century, miles of beaches in Hawaii have already dramatically shrunk or disappeared altogether. Research has shown that 70% of beaches across all of Hawaii are facing erosion, threatening the islands’ vital coastal ecosystems, cultural practices, Native Hawaiian recreational activities, and the public’s long-standing right to access shores. , according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The beaches and sand dunes also help protect coastal homes, businesses and roads from flooding and are what draw millions of tourists to the islands.
Among the main findings of the study: 46 parks, 72% of those included in the study, are expected to suffer flooding or land loss within the next 30 years if nothing is done.
Likewise, an estimated 32 miles of state and county roads could be flooded by rising sea levels, blocking access to 40 percent of county parks. And 36% of the park’s facilities like restrooms, parking lots and picnic shelters could be in danger in the next 30 years, or even sooner in high tides or storm surges, the study says.
The study assessed whether each seaside park had “low”, “medium” or “high” potential to adapt to rising sea levels and what, if nothing else, can be done to protect it from working with government governments. county and state to relocate nearby roads inland to restore sand dunes to buy nearby land and move mauka parks. In some cases, due to the location of the parks on the beach, the only way forward may be to abandon the parks while still granting residents access to the coast, a right rooted in Hawaiian law for generations.
In places like Puamana Park or Ukumehame Beach Park, for example, the conservation of the beaches depends on moving the roads away from the coast which are currently predicted to be underwater someday. To Baldwin and Kanaha, on the other hand, protecting beach parks might seem like restoring sand dunes or wetlands to protect against high waves and erosion, while preserving habitats for native plants and animals.
“We’re not dealing with pavilions and trees falling into the ocean, but we’re saying that will happen in the next decade,” Maydan said. “How do we move our mauka assets? How do we preserve the use of this park for people? “
Maydan said the study is still ongoing. Using their recent findings, the county plans to identify which beaches fall into the “red code” and create adaptation plans to protect them from immediate threats.
Another idea identified in the study: continue to work with the community and seek to create a citizen science program that could leverage residents to help monitor changes and threats to Maui’s beach parks.
“Involving the community is so important, because these are all places we all love and appreciate,” Maydan said. “This is a huge challenge, but only by combining minds and voices, we will find good solutions.”
Maui County Civil Beat coverage is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.
Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Environmental Funders Group, the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Marisla Fund, and the Frost Family Foundation.