August 16, 2017


Photo Credit (c) Pauline Fiene

Mission Blue is honored to announce the newest member of the Hope Spot family — and the first such area in the Hawaiian archipelago! The Olowalu reef is Maui’s “crown jewel,” a one thousand-acre coral reef that is home to the largest known manta ray population in the US (430 individuals) and the oldest coral in the main Hawaiian Islands. The Olowalu reef sustains an amazing diversity of rare and unique coral species and acts as a nursery to replenish and populate the reefs of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

In Hawaiian history, Olowalu was known as a Pu’uhonua (sanctuary) where people could take refuge, take time to reflect and heal. Given the rapidly declining resources locally and globally, the Olowalu community, in concert with many local partnerships, has taken the initiative to restore the balance that has been lost between people and nature. The local Hope Spot community, initiated by Mark H. Deakos, Ph.D. Executive Director and Chief Scientist of the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, is confident that Olowalu will rise again as a Pu’uhonua through the revival of ancient traditional land and ocean management practices. This reef has been selected as the first priority reef in Maui for protection by most of the top coral reef biologists in the State.

The Olowalu Reef faces what most reefs around the world in developed areas are facing. Despite most of the lands adjacent to this reef have not yet been developed, the oldest coral aged in the Main Hawaiian Islands is nearly 90% dead, sighting rates for manta rays have dropped by 90% in the past 10 years, and nearly 50% of the reefs suffered bleaching in 2015. Much of the inner reef has been seriously depleted from land-based sediment impacts and the highway that is being undermined by rising sea-levels may be subject to seawalls. Although a large development was thwarted in 2015, large land owners continue to pursue large scale urbanization of these lands.

Hope Spots are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean — Earth’s blue heart. Hope Spots are about recognizing, empowering and supporting individuals and communities around the world in their efforts to protect the ocean. Dr. Sylvia Earle introduced the concept in her 2009 TED talk and since then the idea has inspired millions across the planet. While about 12 percent of the land around the world is now under some form of protection (as national parks etc.), less than six percent of the ocean is protected in any way. Hope Spots allow us to plan for the future and look beyond current marine protected areas (MPAs), which are like national parks on land where exploitative uses like fishing and deep sea mining are restricted. Hope Spots are often areas that need new protection, but they can also be existing MPAs where more action is needed. They can be large, they can be small, but they all provide hope due to:

  • A special abundance or diversity of species, unusual or representative species, habitats or ecosystems
  • Particular populations of rare, threatened or endemic species
  • A site with potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts
  • The presence of natural processes such as major migration corridors or spawning grounds
  • Significant historical, cultural or spiritual values
  • Particular economic importance to the community

The following include the three main goals for the Olowalu Reef Hope Spot:

  1. Develop a strong Community Marine Manage Area at Olowalu, supported by the Malama Olowalu, The Maui Nui Marine Resources Council and the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, so the local community can develop their reef management plan and build a vision for Olowalu where people and nature live in harmony and thrive.
  2. Continued research: a) examine the threats undermining our reefs by looking at stressors over time using reef forensics (University of Hawaii reef forensics), b) identifying the sources of sediment and eliminating those sources with automated water quality monitoring (HAMER, USGS, Maui Electric), c) measuring the resilience (recovery) of this reef to the 2015 bleaching event (DAR and TNC), d) Continue monitoring manta ray populations using photo-id, photogrammetry, tagging and genetics to understand distinct stocks and paternage.
  3. Implement a Coral Reef Mitigation Banking system to preserve Olowalu and neighboring Ukumehame lands in perpetuity to protect the reef and offset impacts to other reefs.

Olowalu Reef has all the ingredients for a successful Hope Spot including: 1) cultural history, 2) strong support from local, state, national and international stakeholders, 3) strong interest from scientists and conservationists locally, nationally and internationally, 4) having been chosen as the top priority area of focus as part of the Maui Coral Reef Recovery Plan and last but not least 5) who doesn’t want to protect the majestic manta rays? The 430 individual manta rays that visit the Olowalu Reef are the largest manta ray population in the United States. Unfortunately, sighting rates have diminished significantly. The Hawaii Governor recently pledged at the IUCN Conservation Conference to protect 30% of Hawaii’s nearshore marine habitats by 2030. The Olowalu Reef or a much larger Hope Spot that represents the Maui Nui Network of Marine Protected Areas could greatly assist the governor in reaching his 2030 goal.

To get involved reach out to Dr. Deakos at deakos(at)


6 thoughts on “Olowalu Reef Is Announced as the First Hawaiian Hope Spot!

  1. ALOHA AND MAHALO NUI to the champions of Olowalu Reef You have just added a critically important link in a growing network of Hope for the ocean. Never before has it been more urgent to save places such as Olowalu; never again will there be a better time to do so. Deepest thanks to all who are taking action to protect this special place and the wide ocean beyond. Making peace with the ocean is vital if we are to have peace among ourselves.

  2. We deeply appreciate Mission Blue’s recognition of Olowalu reef being critically important to Hawaii and their commitment to supporting efforts to reverse the decline of water quality and biodiversity in Maui Nui. We look forward to working together to protect Olowalu reef

    We are also grateful to Dr. Deakos for his tireless efforts and personal dedication to saving Olowalu reef. As Director of HAMER, founding member of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, active participant on its Maui Coral Reef Recovery Team, and deeply concerned marine scientist, Mark tirelessly shares his time and mana’o to save Maui’s reefs for future generations. He is a valued & tireless leader in the community.

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