Lahaina Surfer Vents Frustration Over 'Disrespectful' Tourists After Maui Fire

The devastation, as seen from the drone angle. Photo: Matt Schweitzer//screenshot

The Inertia

Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and “Hui O Ka Wai Ola,” a citizen science group, are currently studying the effects that the devastating Lahaina fire of August 2023 had on the town’s coral reefs. Particularly, they are testing the temperature, salinity, oxygen, turbidity, and chlorophyll, as well as water currents that indicate where contaminants would flow and accumulate from the disaster zone in West Maui. The scientists aim to release preliminary results within a month. 

The Lahaina fire was the first instance of an urban wildfire of this magnitude burning next to a coral reef. The research underway will provide a glimpse into how contaminants from burned plastics, metals, lead paint, and lithium-ion batteries interact with a coral reef ecosystem. 

State officials in Hawaii are still cautioning residents to limit their exposure to the ocean in the area as well as consumption of seafood. Andrea Kealoha, a Manoa professor and Maui native estimates that there will be detectable contaminants present in plants and animals for the next two to five years. 

Whatever damage the researchers find to the reef, something they will take into account is that the reef was not in perfect health before the fires. According to Russell Sparks, a Maui aquatic biologist at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the health of much of the coral reef near the disaster area was already diminished before the fires due to overfishing, warmer ocean temperatures, heavy traffic from kayak and SUP tours, and sediment flows from fallow fields and construction sites. 

Authorities, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maui officials are attempting to limit the damage to the ocean by removing rubble and ash, using soil stabilizer, and installing protective barriers alongside storm drains and roads to block runoff. 

The Lahaina wildfire quickly spread on August 8 leading to the destruction of over 2,000 buildings and a death toll of 100. The community is still working hard to recover. 

Editor’s Note: Click here to support the campaign to bring the documentary about the fire and its impact on the community to life, and to continue to raise awareness about the people impacted by the Maui wildfires. 


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