MAHAULEPU — More than 100 new trees and shrubs are now at home at the Makauwahi Cave Reserve on Kauai’s South Shore, many of them planted in five new wetlands that have recently been completed.
The work at the cave reserve is being done under an Environmental Protection Agency Supplemental Environmental Project grant, with $125,000 coming from Hawaii Dairy Farm due to a November court decision.
As part of the decision in a Clean Water Act violation case between Hawaii Dairy Farm and community group Friends of Mahaulepu, HDF was ordered to fund the supplemental environmental project.
“We have supplied all the funds for the work,” said HDF spokeswoman Amy Hennessey, who said nothing has changed when it comes to progression on the creation of the 557-acre dairy, which is currently the subject of a second Environmental Impact Statement after a first one was rejected by the state.
“We have no new announcements at this time,” Hennessey said. “It’s very encouraging the project continues to generate public awareness and discussion about the importance of locally produced food as part of Hawaii’s overall self-sufficiency and resiliency.”
David Burney with the Makauwahi Cave Reserve says the work is completed on the project “with the planting of more than 100 native plants in the lower watershed and efforts to correct soil erosion through blockage of erosion channels and re-vegetation of the stream bank.”
The project includes water quality remediation in the Waiopili Stream by reducing tree cover and increasing stream bank vegetation to stop erosion and the creation of more wetlands for endangered waterbirds and taro loi for further filtration.
Originally the vision was creating three new wetlands for the birds, but Burney says they went above and beyond with the wetlands.
“We exceeded these goals by creating not three, but five new wetlands and by planting additional trees and shrubs in the area above the cave as proposed,” he said.
Community outreach has increased at the cave reserve as well, with an uptick in opportunities for “volun-tourists” and school groups, as well as opportunities for Native Hawaiians, particularly those of Niihau ancestry.
Water quality remediation is ongoing, Burney said, but when the project started experts cautioned there’s a chance changes might not be documented for several years.
“Measurements (in the Waiopili Stream) by Surfrider have not shown a significant decrease yet,” Burney said. “Also, we do not know where these bacteria are coming from.”
He said those involved in the project are “in regular contact with the State Department of Health, Clean Water Division” because the entity is overseeing a study using DNA markers to trace the source of the contamination in the watershed.”
Staff members with DOH CWB told those involved in the project the results of the study should be released shortly.
Meanwhile, visitors continue to tour the cave, which boasts more than 100 species of native plants, the richest fossil site in the islands, and a host of endangered species including water birds and blind cave invertebrates.
Rescued tortoises are also at home in the cave, and are used to keep non-native plants in check.
Free guided tours are led every Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com.