National Wildlife Refuge
|Milepost 6, Mokulele Hwy (Hwy 311)
Kihei, HI 96753
Phone Number: 808-875-1582
|Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few natural wetlands remaining in the Hawaiian Islands. Located along the south central coast of the island of Maui between the towns of Kihei and Ma'alaea, this 691-acre wetland is home to the endangered Hawaiian stilt (ae'o) and Hawaiian coot ('alae ke oke'o). The refuge is adjacent to Kealia Beach, which is a nesting ground for the endangered hawksbill turtle.
Kealia Pond serves as a settling basin a 56-square mile watershed that results in seasonal intermittent flooding during winter months and dryer conditions during late summer months. This creates open water (200 acres) and shallow mud flat areas interspersed with vegetation, which provide suitable resting, feeding, and nesting habitat for endangered water birds. During certain times of the year, the refuge supports at least half of the Hawaiian stilt population.
The pond also supports a diverse assemblage of migratory birds from late summer (August) to early spring (April). It is one of the most important areas in the state for wintering migratory waterfowl. Migratory shorebirds also congregate here to take advantage of the food resources along the water's edge. As water recedes, fish are crowded into the remaining water, making them easy prey for 'auku'u (black-crowned night herons).
Approximately 2,700 people visit the refuge each year to engage in various wildlife-oriented activities, including bird watching, photography, environmental education, habitat restoration projects that involve removal of exotic species, and outplanting with Hawaii's native vegetation.
Getting There . . .
The refuge office is located about a mile north of the town of Kihei. Look for the familiar U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service logo (with the dark blue fish and goose) at the entrance, located at milepost 6 of Mokulele Highway (Highway 311). The office is less than 0.5 miles down this road. Parking is limited; groups of more than 20 people please phone ahead.
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At Kealia, as in other Hawaiian wetland refuges, control of exotic plants is a year-round battle. Over 90 percent of the plants you see here are aggressive, introduced species, such as Florida mangrove, pickleweed, Indian marsh fleabane, and California bulrush. Native plants, such as 'aki'aki (saltgrass) and 'akulikuli, (sea purslane) have become scarce.
Without human intervention, exotic plants will quickly choke open water and mud flats, a situation seen throughout the Islands. This has had a direct impact on wildlife. At the turn of the century, about 40,000 ducks wintered in Hawaiian wetlands; today that number is around 2,000. Four of the five native water birds are now classified as endangered.
Introduced animals have also affected native Hawaiian wildlife. Cattle egrets compete with native birds for food, and may eat their chicks. Mongooses, rats, cats, and dogs eat ground-nesting birds, and their eggs and young. Predator control is an ongoing effort at Kealia. Controlling water levels is another vital aspect of habitat management, particularly during the nesting season.
With too much water, nests can be flooded, or the water is too deep for chicks to forage; too little water, and hatchlings will have to travel too far to find food. Planned flooding and draining also helps keep alien plants from growing in areas needed by birds. The refuge also works with neighboring landowners and the public to restore and protect the coastal sand dunes that provide nesting habitat for endangered hawksbill sea turtles.