In April 2020 we are required to keep a distance from people outside of our own household to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 and to allow our health and other services to take care of those who need help. Sierra Club has therefor canceled all organized outings until further notice. But we are still allowed to venture out on our own or with members of our own household for exercise such as walking, running, hiking, swimming and surfing. No need to stay cooped up at home all day. Just keep at least six feet between yourself and anyone you meet. This is the third of several posts on good places to go hiking/walking without a guide.
The Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge is a wonderful place to hike and explore, easy to get to from Central Maui. If it wasn’t for the current “social distancing” restrictions, it would be an excellent place for a picnic and spending the day as well. The refuge is open to the public.
Here is some information from the Hawaian Islands Land Trust (HILT), the custodians of the refuge:
Once slated for development as a golf course, the Waihe’e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge protects over 24 acres of coastal, spring-fed wetland, 103 acres of dune ecosystem, over 7000 feet of marine shoreline and more than 8 acres of riparian habitat for the recovery of native birds and native vegetation. The Land Trust took fee ownership of this very sensitive 277-acre site in 2004. Active restoration programs have enhanced critical native wildlife habitat, while preserving the area’s rich archaeological and cultural resources. Once populated with two thriving ancient Hawaiian villages, an extensive inland fishpond and several heiau (Hawaiian temples), the Waihee Refuge is among the most significant cultural sites in the state.
The Hawaiian Island Land Trust (HILT) aims to restore the Waihe’e Refuge to reflect the cultural and natural state it would have been in 200 years ago. This vision requires a lot of labor intensive work; when HILT (formerly Maui Coastal Land Trust) acquired the Waihe’e Refuge, roughly 95% of the plants found on the site were considered to be invasive species.
Restoring the Waihe’e Refuge to its historical, natural state will encourage native plants to take hold of the site again, thereby enhancing the natural resilience of the system. A healthy, more resilient landscape could buffer the impacts of climate change better than a damaged landscape could. The wetland is now up to 70% native species and native plants and birds have begun to naturally repopulate the surrounding landscape.
In testament to the returning health of the ecosystem, eight different endangered species have taken up residence at the Refuge in recent years. With the wetlands primarily cleared and habitat-appropriate plants now thriving, the area is host to many native Hawaiian bird species, including ae‘o (stilt), alae ke‘oke‘o (coot), koloa (duck), and even nene (goose).
Quiet and pristine, the Waihe‘e shoreline is a favorite retreat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and nesting green sea turtles. Off the coast, the extensive reef is one of the longest and widest on Maui. It’s believed that this reef system provided excellent fishing in ancient times and it is, in fact, still a favorite among local fishermen today.
Parking for the refuge is either on the grass next to the refuge entrance or in the beach parking lot next to it. To get there, take Halewalu Road from Kahekili Highway. Halewalu Road leads to the Waiehu Golf Course and there are signs at the turnoff for both the golf course and the refuge. After 0.4 miles the turnoff from Halewalu Road to the refuge is on the left side. There is a sign. The road ends after 0.2 miles with the refuge entrance on the left and beach parking on the right.
This map shows a hike of 2.6 miles round-trip on level ground:
After entering the refuge, after 1,000 feet you will arrive at a fork in the trail. The old dairy is on the right and there is a map and interesting information about the refuge to read here. You can continue straight at this point, parallel to and close to the ocean, or you can take a detour off to the left as in the map. The detour takes you past areas where volunteers have been working on planting native Hawaiian plants and then rejoins the coastal trail. Either way, you will continue along the coastline until you reach the mouth of the Waihe‘e River. That is the turning point.
Coming back along the coastal trail, you can opt to walk for a stretch on the round rocks on the beach before continuing on the trail back to the parking area.
There has been very little trash the last few times I have been there, but please bring a bag just in case. The area most likely to have washed up plastic debris is the last beach before getting back to the parking area.
The federal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) looked at the request from four wind farms on three Hawaiian islands to drastically increase the number of opeʻapeʻa (Hawaiian Hoary Bats) “taken” during their project lifetimes. It considered three options:
No changes to the existing Habitat Conservation Plans. The wind farm operators would have to live within their committed limits on “take”. Auwahi is already past its estimated 25-year “take” and Kahewawa II is getting close.
The wind farm operators proposed sharply higher “takes” – e.g. 140 bats at Auwahi compared to the initial commitment of at most 21 – to be traded for investment in habitat restoration.
Sharply curtailed night-time operation to get the “take” number down.
Which alternative is most in line with the charter of the Fish and Wildlife Service? The final report says:
“Pursuant to NEPA implementing regulations found at 40 CFR 15.2(b), the Service identified Alternative 3—Increased Curtailment as the environmentally preferred alternative in the RODs.”
And which alternative did they choose? Alternative 2.
Kaheawa II is the lower string of wind turbines on the mountain above Maʻalaea. It became operational in July 2012 and provides about 21 MW of power to the grid. A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) committed the wind farm to not “taking” (kill, maim, harass) more than 11 Hawaiian Hoary Bats (ʻOpeʻapeʻa) within a 20-year contract period. However, that number has been estimated to already have been taken in seven years; the company has provided a revised Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and HCP. The new documents propose increasing the take of bats from 11 to 38 adults during the contract period. It also proposes increasing the allowed take of Nēnē from 30 to 44 adults. Both the ʻOpeʻapeʻa and the Nēnē are protected as endangered species.
We still lack information on the total number of bats on Maui, their distribution and their population trend. This is partially due to insufficient research, partly to ineffective detection technology. The most commonly used technology for bat detection is acoustic detection of their echo-location sounds. However, that only works when the bat is echo-locating and the microphone is sufficiently oriented towards the bat. Comparison to thermal imaging has found that only 8% of bats present are detected. Further, there is no way to tell if an acoustic detector is registering a single bat making multiple echo-location sounds or multiple bats. It is important to invest in increasing our knowledge of the bat population on Maui and what the effects of mitigation efforts on that population have been. For this reason, we support research funding as a partial mitigation. Without knowing what the bat population and trend is, it is difficult to say if the taking of an additional 27 adult bats at Kaheawa II (beyond the current HCP limit of 11) through the current 20-year period ending in 2032 is an existential threat to the endangered species on Maui or to a subgroup of it. The death of an adult bat may lead to the death of its juvenile offspring as well, and it may have ripple effects on genetic diversity and resilience.
Quantifying the Loss
The Kaheawa II plan “includes searches of roads and graded pads that occur within a 70-meter (m) radius from each turbine every 7 days. Searches are primarily conducted by a canine search team, with visual searchers conducting about 14% of searches per year.”
That means that far from all casualties are detected. Scavengers may remove bats after an event but before the weekly search. A bat may be slung beyond 70 meters. A statistical model attempts to compensate for the missed casualties by extrapolating from the number found. Given how far off the original estimates of bat fatalities were, how inefficient the bat detection technology is and how limited our knowledge is of island-wide and local bat populations, Kaheawa II must increase the confidence in its take numbers.
Besides research, the proposed external mitigation is to increase the amount of restored forest habitat thought to be preferred by the Hawaiian Hoary Bat. Preference is to be given to areas otherwise threatened with development or other changes that would make them less hospitable to the bat. A selected area must be known to already host bats (through acoustical or other detection methods). Bats have been detected all over the island. On Hawaiʻi Island they have been detected from the shoreline to 11,800 feet elevation on Mauna Loa. They have a varied night-time foraging area and range, while the areas where they roost during the day and where they pup are thought to be much more limited, typically to restored/established forests. Preserving their preferred roosting habitats is therefor more important from the standpoint of resiliency of the species than managing their foraging range.
There is no data on the effects of habitat restoration on the bat population. As a matter of fact, it was found at Kahikinui that bat detection frequency decreased after fencing for ungulate (deer, pigs, goats) removal, likely due to less insects which had been attracted by ungulate dung. At this point, population compensation through reforestation must be considered theoretical. This is very different from the situation with Nēnē, where fledglings can be counted in protected areas.
The only operational mitigation known to reduce fatalities is to not run the wind turbines below a cutoff wind speed threshold from sunset to sunrise, or not run them at all during that time – Low Wind Speed Curtailment (LWSC). The bats are able to detect and avoid the turbine blades if they are spinning rapidly. Data from mainland studies indicates that raising the cutoff threshold from 5.0 meters/second wind speed (as proposed by Auwahi and by Kaheawa II for part of the year) to 6.9 meters/second is effective in this regard, while raising it additionally has little or no effect.
The Auwahi wind farm HCP says that the impact of LWSC regimes from studies on the mainland suggest a reduction in bat take ranging from 10 to 92 percent through increasing the cutoff speed, but that there is little or no benefit above 6.9 meters/second:
Bats are detected year round at the wind farms but more often August-October. The following chart is from the Kaheawa II HCP. The highest rate was in September 2015 when bat activity was detected on 58% of the nights.
Comments to the Kaheawa II EIS
1. Multiple non-contiguous habitat restoration areas
The EIS says “Wildfires can cause direct loss of adult bats and dependent young that are unable to escape a forest fire.” A catastrophic fire in an area heavily used for roosting and pupping could dramatically affect the total bat population and the options for species recovery. Sierra Club would like to see appropriate habitat restoration for the ʻOpeʻapeʻa in at least three non-contiguous areas to reduce that risk.
2. Increase the confidence in the take numbers
If some bat fatalities are not detected, we may be underestimating the actual take at any given wind farm. Sierra Club supports the recommendation of the wildlife agencies to expand the buffer zone searched for carcasses by 20%.
Similarly, we propose increasing the frequency of searches for carcasses to once every two days (instead of once/week) for at least a year to see if the detection rate changes.
3. Reduce the fatalities by raising the wind speed cutoff
Based on the mainland studies referenced by the Auwahi revised HCP, Sierra Club proposes a 6.9 meters/second cutoff for all wind farms from 30 minutes before sunset to 30 minutes after sunset year round. The Kaheawa II HCP proposes a nightly cutoff of 5.5 meters/second from February 15 through December 15 and 5.0 the rest of the year. Curtailment would be extended from December 15 to February 15 if fatalities occur outside the proposed curtailment period. It claims that “There are no studies to date that test whether mortality rates decrease significantly when LWSC is raised from 5.5 m/s to 6.5 m/s.“, despite the studies reported in the Auwahi HCP. However, it also says that “increasing curtailment from 5.5 m/s to 6.5 m/s would reduce renewable energy generation from the Project by approximately 328 megawatt hours (MWh) annually (or 0.47% of 70,000 MWh assumed to be produced annually)“. That is a very small price to pay for reducing or possibly eliminating the bat fatalities.
4. Monitor the effects of operational mitigation and increase curtailment if necessary
The proposed increase in take is largely a projection of continued fatalities at the level we have seen the past seven years, which is much higher than originally anticipated. If this already increased take is exceeded, the HCP says:
“Once the permittee and/or wildlife agencies have determined the observed take is exceeding the permit year trigger, the appropriate minimization technique determined in consultation with the wildlife agencies would be implemented immediately if minimization includes just a change in wind turbines operation. Minimization will include any or any combination of the following: 1. a higher level of Low Wind Speed Curtailment if additional research demonstrates a higher likelihood of success than does current research, 2. periods of complete cessation of operations during the night (such as during the first 2 hours of the night or during annual periods of highest activity, for example), 3. implementing deterrents that have been proven to reduce fatality rates on at least 50% of the wind turbines (with the highest bat detection and/or fatality rates), 4. implementing “early-warning” systems on at least 50% of the wind turbines (with the highest bat detection and/or fatality rates) that detect the presence of bats and shutting down at least 50% of the wind turbines (with the highest bat detection and/or fatality rates) for at least 15 minutes (assuming no additional bat activity is detected), 5. or a not yet identified option.”
That is unsatisfactory – requiring that additional research show higher success rates for low wind speed curtailment than current research; they should go with the current research if there is no better research at that time. The rest is speculative and non-committal.
There are no proven bat deterrent technologies yet, although a wind farm on Oʻahu will use a new technology for evaluation as a pilot project.
Habitat restoration is valuable and should be part of the plan, but it cannot (at this time) be demonstrated to compensate for a single bat lost to the wind turbines, much less 38 of them.
Sierra Club feels that the company must commit to curtailing operation to the extent required to reduce the observed take rate so as to not risk jeopardizing the survival of this unique Hawaiian animal, to the point of full night-time curtailment if necessary. New technology such as bat deterrents may help, but the calculated total take should not go to 38 before taking steps that are known to save bat lives. If the tier 1 and 2 mitigation steps do not reduce the observed rate by 50% from the average of the last three years (the basis for the proposed new rates), additional steps should be taken to reduce the take (increase the cutoff rate, not run the turbines at night at all).
The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and NOAA Fisheries today announced the health status of two recently hooked monk seals. Since March 2012, NOAA Fisheries, DLNR and partners have responded to five seal hooking incidents involving four individual Hawaiian monk seals.
HOOKED – Hawaiian Monk Seals, inadvertently “hooked” by commercial fishermen, have about a 50/50 chane of survival. (DLNR Photo)
“Monk seals are a vital part of Hawai‘i’s marine and cultural environment,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. “Thanks to the citizens who reported the hooking of monk seal Kolohe, we are pleased to announce that he has recovered and was released back on Kaua‘i on Monday.
“Unfortunately, Sharkbite’s recovery was not successful, increasing the total now to three cases where hooking have been the likely cause of death of monk seals. We want to partner with the fishermen to reduce impacts. Following guidelines and reporting hookings can help make a relatively small impact become even smaller.
“Handling these hookings has been very labor and resource intensive and could not be possible without significant support and leadership from several partners. NOAA and DLNR, along with all of our partners, would like to take this opportunity to remind fishermen that monk seal deaths and injuries from fishing interactions can often be prevented, and adverse impacts to fishermen and seals can be reduced through early reporting of incidents.”
The toll-free, 24/7 reporting hotline for all fishing interactions and other marine mammal incidents is: 1-888-256-9840. NOAA and DLNR urge all fishermen and other ocean users to write down this hotline and/or save it in their mobile phones for timely use whenever a seal is hooked or entangled.
COMMUNITY COALITION PLEAS FOR EDUCATION AND DIALOGUE
IN THE WAKE OF RECENT HAWAIIAN MONK SEAL DEATHS
Honolulu, Hawai`i – In response to the series of “suspicious” Hawaiian monk seal deaths in Hawai`i, a group of concerned citizens and organizations have stepped up efforts to educate the public about the plight of the critically endangered marine mammal. The group, identified as the Aloha Kanaloa Coalition (www.alohakanaloacoalition.org <http://www.alohakanaloacoalition.org> ) recently released a public service announcement video aimed at raising awareness about the critical status of the monk seal.
“The purpose of the PSA was to remind people that our Hawaiian kupuna K?`ulakai taught us the importance of sharing,” said Walter Ritte, Hawaiian community activist and coalition member. “We need to share our ocean resources with the seals. What happens to them happens to us.”
UH Professor and coalition member Jon Osorio agrees. “These are truly senseless killings. Kanaka who are pono do not kill for nothing. The pressures of a global market and local economic difficulties are making people behave in inexcusable ways and we must return to a more restrained and responsible lifestyle.”
While only recently formed, the group sees its recent success in the production of its PSA as a sign of its potential. “The public service announcement is a demonstration of how powerful and effective community can be when it comes together,” said Koa Kaulukukui, coalition member and PSA coordinator. “We hope to use the momentum of the PSA video to develop more opportunities to educate people about the value and importance of our Hawaiian monk seals.”
The Aloha Kanaloa Coalition currently consists of over a dozen individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The group anticipates that with the latest act of violence, more individuals and organizations are likely to come forward to join the effort to support Hawaiian monk seal education and recovery.
The Aloha Kanaloa Coalition currently includes KAHEA: The Hawaiian – Environmental Alliance, the Conservation Council for Hawai`i, the Hawai`i Wildlife Fund, the Marine Conservation Institute, the National Wildlife Federation, the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Moloka`i Community Service Council, Hawai`i Interfaith Power and Light, and other organizations and individuals.
# # # Media inquiries:
Koa Kaulukukui (808) 226-0370