Here in Western Montana, we think about preserving wildlife corridors for grizzly bears and protecting wetland habitat around our precious streams and rivers in this semi-arid climate. In Hawaii, the folks at Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (HILT) think about preserving habitat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and undeveloped coastline along the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean.
Despite geographic and ecological differences, we share the instinct to conserve the landscapes that sustain us. That conservation ethic and appreciation of land in its natural state resonated with me last month when I visited the Waihe’e Coastal Dunes & Wetland Refuge, which is one of several properties owned by HILT. Fortunately for tourists like me and my family, the refuge is open to the public, and HILT encourages people (locals and visitors alike) to explore the refuge and take in all it has to offer.
The Waihe’e Refuge is located on Maui and consists of 277 acres of coastal wetlands, dunes, marine shoreline, near-shore reef, and riparian habitat. The coastal dunes (pictured below) are covered in vegetation and represent one of the last remaining examples of this habitat type on Maui.
The West Maui Mountains provide an impressive backdrop to the 103 acres of coastal dunes that are part of the Refuge. Another feature of the Refuge that struck me during my visit was the more than 7,000 feet of marine shoreline. Without the sprinkling of brightly-colored beach umbrellas, snorkels bobbing in the waves, and beach front resorts towering in the background, this pristine stretch of coastline serves as a reminder that Maui’s beaches aren’t all about white sand and lounge chairs. This coastline is rocky and rugged. And the waters just off the coast conceal an extensive reef, one of the largest and widest on Maui.
The reef system is probably why the fishing is so good off the shore of the Waihe’e Refuge. The Refuge was once the site of two ancient Hawaiian villages. While just a few traces of these villages remain on the land, the strong fishing tradition continues. While we were there, we watched a fisherman cast his wide net out into the water and haul in a catch.
Thanks to the land trust staff and volunteers who had the vision to preserve this piece of land in 2004, and to the current HILT staff and volunteers who work to restore and maintain it, the Refuge provides a unique experience for visitors to the island.
Post by Alice Jones, Five Valleys Land Attorney
Photos courtesy of Alice Jones