Written by Sage-Marie Yamashita + Photographed by Jasmine Buerano
When the rivers were flowing in the rainy season, it was a sign of a fun time as a child. Building wa’a (canoes) out of the natural elements around us. From using tools like coconuts to sticks, and even leaves, we would watch the wa’a race out into the ocean, breaking the line where fresh water meets salt.
Today, we watch debris in soil-polluted waters race down from mauka to makai, telling the next generation to avoid following the line of where salt meets fresh waters. Its pollution is caused by the abundant rains that fall but can’t hold steadfast due to the lack of native plants rooted in the ground to hold healthy soil in place.
Hawai'is recent weather during the winter season portrayed how heavy flooding can break the soil resulting in heavy runoff into our oceans. Weather reports shared that the soil moisture was already elevated from recent heavy rains throughout the season and there is increasing the potential for heavy rain to lead to runoff.
Hawai’i is particularly vulnerable to flooding due to our location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and its topography, which includes steep mountains and narrow valleys. This land is left even more vulnerable with the changes over the decades with growth of invasive plants and lack of native plants. With the absence of native plants, soil stability and health, and water-holding capacity is decreased, bringing a greater polluting impact to the oceans with flooding.
Native plants have deeper root systems than many invasive species. These systems help to anchor the soil in place and reduce erosion. In addition native plants are adapted to Hawaii’s climate and soil conditions, they require less water and fertilizer than non-native plants. These features of Native Plants reduce the amount of sediment and chemical pollutants that ultimately reach the ocean during heavy rains and allows the soil to stay healthy.
Without the abundance of native plants, healthy soil is not able to play its crucial role in maintaining a healthy sea. As we see today, our oceans are being polluted with not only the plastics we talk about but the unhealthy soils, sediment and chemicals.
Soil acts as a natural filter, removing contaminants and excess nutrients from runoff before they reach water bodies. Healthy soil also supports vegetation growth, which helps stabilize soil and prevent erosion. In addition, healthy soil can promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, that break down organic matter and recycle nutrients. These microorganisms can help to improve soil health and reduce nutrient runoff.
To revive and support our oceans through the rainy runoff seasons we must bring back the abundance of native plants and healthy soils.
Here at Sustainable Coastlines Hawai'i we were able to first hand witness a volunteer effort to revive native plants and create motion towards healthier soil to healthier seas at our 2023 Earth Day Cleanup Festival.
Volunteers were able to clear out sections full of weeds and debris to make way for native plants to grow and replant native plants on the shore at Muliwai'ōlena.
“Connection to the land. Born and raised on the island of O'ahu you learn how to take care and mālama the 'āina because if not, it’s not going to take care of you,” said Aunty Sunday, the lead steward of Muliwai'ōlena.
Although there is another year until our next Earth Day Cleanup Festival you can still create the same impact that our volunteers did, simply in your backyard and community.
Learn more at sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org and follow us on social media IG: @sustainablecoastlineshawaii Tiktok: @coasthuggers
Aloha, my name is Sage-Marie Yamashita. I am Sustainable Coastlines Hawai'is inspiration intern. Born and raised on the island of Molokaʻi, I have been blessed with an enriching childhood. I’ve learned the culture of my home, explored the land and seas, created my own path and continue to learn how I connect to Hawaiʻi. Now at the age of 18, newly graduated from Molokai High and close to leaving home for college, I can see the changes around me. These environmental changes have begun to shape a new childhood experience for the next generation, not one similar to my own. This is why I find it important to create awareness of soil-pollution, unhealthy seas, and lack of native plants. I want the next generation to be able to follow the line of where fresh meets salt waters and not avoid it.