Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge

Name of case study

Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge

Location

  • South-central coast of Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Year

1953, and 1992

Scale

Landscape scale

Area / size

700 acres

NbS employed

Wetlands: restoration/preservation

Type of NbS

Ecosystem restoration

Initiator

A private company (Department of Conservation)

Funder

Department of Conservation

Budget

Not stated

Design group

Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua, Environment Canterbury, Fish and Game New Zealand, Ashburton District Council, Forest and Bird, Rangitat Landcare Group, Land Information New Zealand, LEARNZ, Cawthorn Institute, Lake Clearwater back owners, Landowners, Recreational groups

The boardwalk at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Kenny Louie.
Keālia Coastal Boardwalk Point 1. Photo by Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Climate change benefits
  • Biomass cover loss
  • freshwater flooding
  • increased pests or spread of weeds
  • reduced water quality
Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Biodiversity health and conservation
  • water security and quality
Ecological benefits
  • Biological control
  • creation of a sense of place
  • disturbance prevention
  • education and knowledge
  • habitat provision
  • species maintenance

Summary of case study

Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is an example of wetland preservation in Te Moananui Oceania. Historically, Keālia served as an ancient fishpond, designed by Indigenous Hawai’ians to raise species like awa (milkfish) and amaʻama (flathead mullet). Fed by water from the Waikapu Stream and Kolaloa Gulch originating from Haleakalā, it utilised a system of ditches and sluice gates to manage fish populations.

Today, Keālia Pond is a vital habitat for a diverse array of bird species, both resident and migratory. Endangered ae‘o (Hawai’ian stilts) and ‘alae ke‘oke‘o (Hawai’ian coots) find nesting and foraging grounds here, while hundreds of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl seek refuge during the winter months. Managed by refuge staff, the wetland habitat undergoes careful monitoring to maintain water levels that mimic natural cycles, ensuring the needs of resident and migratory waterbirds are met.

Established in 1992 to protect the wetland habitat of two endangered bird species, Keālia Pond NWR spans approximately 700 acres, making it one of the few natural wetlands left in the Hawaiian Islands and the largest lowland wetland on Maui. Nestled between Kīhei and Ma‘alaea, Keālia Pond NWR features a coastal salt marsh habitat, serving as a transition zone between urban development and agricultural fields. Its location along the south-central coast, fed by a watershed from the West Maui Mountains, underscores its ecological significance. It encompasses a coastal lagoon primarily within the Waikapu watershed. Bordered by a sandy beach barrier, the lagoon supports a variety of vegetation.

Aerial view of Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, South Maui, Hawaii. Photo by Forest & Kim Starr.
References
  • Pau, S., MacDonald, G. M., & Gillespie, T. W. (2012). A dynamic history of climate change and human impact on the environment from Keālia Pond, Maui, Hawaiian Islands. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102(4), 748-762.
  • Rader, J. A. (2005). Response of vegetation and endangered waterbirds to habitat management techniques at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. South Dakota State University.

Further resources:

<< Wetlands: restoration / preservation