where the wild things are…kealia pond national wildlife refuge, south maui

When I first visited Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, shocking news about thousands of birds falling from the Arkansas skies had just circulated. After experts weighed in, along with your apocalyptic theorists, the culprit for the massive deaths were pegged to loud fireworks and collisions as a result of getting startled in flight. Though it was a freak occurrence, it shows that when the ecosystem is sent off its tipping point, the result can be fatal.

Established as a national reserve in 1992, this saltwater marsh off the Mokulele Highway is a 700-acre haven to more than 30 diverse species. With surrounding vistas that stretch from the West Maui mountains to Ma‘alaea Bay, all the way to Haleakala; it is one of the few wetlands that remain in Hawai‘i and certainly the biggest one on Maui. It is home to Hawai‘i’s native and endangered waterbirds—the Hawaiian coot or ‘alae ke‘oke‘o, and the Hawaiian black-necked stilt or ae‘o.

“My husband and I wanted to take pictures and see what the sanctuary of birds is all about,” said Toni Brohan from Camano Island, Washington. Long lens camera in hand, she and her husband were enjoying a leisurely stroll on the 2,200-foot coastal boardwalk that provides access to the refuge. “It’s a lovely sight, very peaceful, very meditative.”

Along the boardwalk railing are informational plaques about the reserve and the birds that are commonly sighted. “Visitors can come in and bird-watch year-round by the mudflat,” said refuge manager Glynnis Nakai. The open pond is about 200 acres, but can cover up to 400 acres depending on the season. “The shallow water well dries up in the summer until it rains again in November and December,” added Glynnis. Water flows from the adjacent Kealia Beach, a nesting ground for hawksbill turtle. Kolea or Pacific golden plover from Alaska, and waterfowls like the mallard, lesser scaups, Eurasian wigeon and the green-winged teal from Asia and North America fly thousands of miles to trade their frozen winter for our tropical climate and “spineless cuisine”—shrimp, worms, snails that crawl in the bay.

We are blessed by Maui’s majestic beauty every day. We nurture a connection with the ‘aina, aware that our paradise is delicate and its balance needs to be vigilantly defended. At a time when less than 10 percent of the Hawaiian wetlands remain, every effort towards conservation is not only celebrated, it is deemed absolutely necessary.

Located on North Kihei Road between Kihei and Ma‘alaea, Kealia Pond is open from 7:30am to 4pm Monday to Friday. For more information, please call 875-1582 or visit http://www.fws.gov/kealiapond/.

–eliza escano

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