Updated: September 28, 2022
One of Maui’s beaches made a Top 10 beach list that’s not as desirable as other national rankings.
Māliko Bay on Maui’s north shore is one of three Hawai’i beaches that landed on Surfrider Foundation’s 2021 list for Top 10 priority beaches with chronically high bacteria counts.
High counts indicate the presence of human or animal waste in the water, which may threaten public health.
The list, which includes Chocolate’s Surf Break on Oʻahu, and Nāwiliwili on Kauaʻi, was highlighted in a June news release on Surfrider’s annual 2021 Clean Water Report.
For Māliko, 36% of samples collected failed to meet the state health standard for recreational waters, the report said. Chocolates was 95% and Nāwiliwili was 100%.
Māliko Bay is a popular launch site for both downwind paddlers and jet skis. The spot has long shown high bacteria levels.
Lauren Blickley, Hawaiʻi Regional Manager for Surfrider Foundation, said people often assume coastal waters are safe and clean.
“Unfortunately, our data show that coastal areas throughout Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Maui are chronically polluted — primarily through failing wastewater infrastructure, cesspool pollution, and polluted runoff,” she said in the release.
Surfrider points to Hawai’i’s cesspools as major drivers of water pollution.
With an estimated 88,000 cesspools, Hawaiʻi has one of the highest cesspools per capita in the United States. The systems leak nutrients, bacteria and other pathogens into groundwater and surface waterways, putting public health at risk and damaging coastal reef ecosystems.
Blickley said homeowners can help improve coastal water across the islands by converting their cesspools. While it can be expensive, state lawmakers recently passed three bills, particularly HB2195, that support conversions, she added.
The state Department of Health runs a water quality monitoring program and issues Brown Water Advisories during rain and flooding events to warn the public of potential dangers. However, the department focuses on many tourist-favored beaches instead of surveying resident-frequented sites, the report said.
“On the island of Maui, for example, tourist beaches in Kā‘anapali and Kīhei are prioritized for routine monitoring over community beaches, such as Waiehu, Pāpalaua (“Grandma’s”) and Paukūkalo (“Big Lefts”) surf breaks,” the report said. “This trend of elevating popular tourist beaches over sites favored by local communities, even when pollution concerns exist, is seen on every island.”
That’s why Surfrider chapter programs help to fill in the gaps and extend the coverage of the state’s program by testing a diversity of sites popular with recreational users, including surf breaks, local bathing beaches, stream outlets and canoe and stand-up paddleboard launch sites.
Started more than 25 years ago, the Blue Water Task Force is Surfrider’s volunteer water quality monitoring program. The task force annually measures bacteria levels at nearly 500 ocean, bay estuary and freshwater sampling sites around the country.
Last year, 8,532 tests were done at 478 sites, including US regions of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, Hawai’i, Washington, Oregon and California.
The data is also important in identifying chronically polluted sites that should continue to be prioritized for ongoing monitoring, as well as potential investigation on behalf of the Department of Health, the report said.