Thursday, May 19, 2022 |
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LIHU‘E — Tires, car parts and plastic bags are things one would expect to find at a landfill, not in an ocean.
Though it was “a lot of work,” these were just a few of the items local biologist Terry Lilley pulled from a reef last week in Hanalei.
After the extreme flooding in November on the North Shore, loads of trash and debris were swept out to sea and have been damaging the ocean’s ecosystem, she said.
When unnatural materials encounter the reef, they get tossed around by large waves and act like “battering rams,” breaking coral. In addition, they may potentially leach hazardous fluids onto the fragile ecosystem, like coolant from refrigerators or oil from vehicles, said Don Heacock, aquatic biologist for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Aquatics Division on Kaua‘i.
Flooding is essential and is the environment’s way of “spring cleaning,” but the problem is when people leave items in the path of moving water or don’t build in the right places, he said.
While this “wasn’t your average annual flood,” it is important for people to “understand how our watersheds work” because the knowledge is vital for many species’ survival, he said.
Coral are the diamonds of the reef’s coal mine, Heacock said. “Without those coral we would not have the biodiversity that we have,” including “hundreds of fish species and thousands of invertebrates.”
Preparing for environmental phenomena such as flooding is necessary for the continuation of a healthy ocean ecosystem, even if that means re-zoning areas near watersheds, he said.
“We have to plan for these extreme events,” Heacock said, adding that it could mean not parking derelict vehicles in certain places and moving objects to higher ground. “You don’t do certain things in certain places. … What you see today is not what Mother Nature might do tomorrow.”
While “accidents do happen” and items sometimes get swept away when a person least expects it, there are plenty of preventative measures to take, he added.
“How do we get people aware of their ecological footprint?” he asked.
Understanding the paths of moving water, along with appreciating the ‘aina and not tossing trash on the side of the road are fundamental necessities, he said.
“I think it is time we all worked together. Like ‘ohana,” Lilley said. “‘Ohana can include our reef family.”
• Coco Zickos, business and environmental writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or email@example.com.
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