Characterizing mauka-to-makai connections for aquatic ecosystem conservation on Maui, Hawaiʻi

Ecological Informatics
By: , and 



Mauka-to-makai (mountain to sea in the Hawaiian language) hydrologic connectivity – commonly referred to as ridge-to-reef – directly affects biogeochemical processes and socioecological functions across terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems. The supply of freshwater to estuarine and nearshore environments in a ridge-to-reef system supports the food, water, and habitats utilized by marine fauna. In addition, the ecosystem services derived from this land-to-sea connectivity support social and cultural practices (hereafter referred to as socio-cultural) including fishing, aquaculture, wetland agriculture, religious ceremonies, and recreational activities. To effectively guide island resource management, a better understanding of the linkages from ridge-to-reef across natural and social usages is critical, particularly in the context of climate change, with anticipated increasing temperature and shifting precipitation patterns. The objective of this study was to identify spatial linkages that promote multiple and diverse uses, following the ridge-to-reef concept, at an island-wide scale to identify regions of high conservation importance for aquatic resources. We selected the Island of Maui as a study representative of many Pacific islands. Diverse datasets, including agricultural lands within watersheds, wetland locations, presence of stream species, indicators of freshwater input from streams, coral cover, nearshore fish biomass, socio-cultural data such as fishpond locations, wetland taro cultivation, beach recreation use, and lastly the dynamically downscaled Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase (CMIP5) future climate projections scenarios (Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 & 8.5) were used to examine the spatial linkages through hydrological connectivity from land to the sea. Zonation spatial planning software was used to prioritize areas of high management and conservation value and to help inform aquatic resources management. The resulting prioritized areas included many minimally disturbed watersheds in east Maui and western nearshore and coastal zones that are adjacent to diverse coral reefs. These results are driven by the importance of fish biomass and coral reef distribution as well as traditional wetland taro cultivation and coastal access points for recreation. These results underline the importance of examining ridge-to-reef systems for aquatic resource management and including important social and cultural values in resource management upon planning adaptation strategies for climate change. Improving our understanding of diverse natural and socio-cultural influences on habitat conditions and their values in these areas provides an opportunity to strategically plan future management and conservation actions.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Characterizing mauka-to-makai connections for aquatic ecosystem conservation on Maui, Hawaiʻi
Series title Ecological Informatics
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoinf.2022.101704
Volume 70
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) National Climate Adaptation Science Center
Description 101704, 12 p.
Country United States
State Hawaii
Other Geospatial Maui
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