Resource Management

Blue wing teal

Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is at the base of two watersheds from the West Maui Mountains and Haleakalā. The wetland undergoes seasonal conditions resulting in high water during winter months and low water during summer-fall months.  

As on all of our refuges, one of our most important management functions is protecting the wildlife by providing undisturbed habitat. We do this by:

  • promoting the conservation of endangered species, especially endangered Hawaiian stilts and Hawaiian coots, through healthy functioning of this wetland floodplain 
  • optimizing water levels for maximum habitat size and value for endangered, resident, and migrating waterbirds while reducing the growth and reproduction of invasive species 
  • expanding understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of the wetland and coastal ecosystems through wildlife-oriented educational opportunities, visitor services, and active participation of volunteers 
  • developing cross-programmatic and community partnerships to enhance wetland and watershed habitats 
  • placing refuge boundary signs, instituting seasonal closures for nesting, having a year-round refuge staff and volunteer presence, and by providing outreach and education 

The wetland’s outlet to the ocean is naturally blocked with sand and breaches when water in the pond reaches capacity. Management of the wetlands is geared toward providing quality habitat for endangered waterbirds such as the a‘eo and providing water for foraging and bathing, vegetation to nest within and seek cover, and mudflats to rest and nest.

The refuge has limited capabilities to manage water in the large wetland and is subject to natural conditions, especially during the summer-fall dry season (August-October). During this time, water has to be pumped into the pond to maintain shallow water for waterbirds. Efforts are being made to increase our ability to control water in the wetlands including re-drilling old brackish-water wells, repairing the water control structure at the outlet at the North Kihei Road bridge, and investigating alternate water sources.

Habitat Restoration 

The refuge’s goal to protect endangered Hawaiian waterbirds includes enhancing and restoring the habitat they depend upon. A majority of the preferred habitat has been encroached upon by nonnative, invasive plant species that form thick stands which cannot be accessed by birds. Refuge staff and volunteers devote resources to opening up more wetland habitat to increase foraging and nesting areas for birds.

Wetland restoration involves invasive plant control that must be maintained on a frequent basis due to the year-round growing season. Although a majority of these projects are for the benefit of waterbirds, the Kanuimanu Pond restoration project also benefits visitor access.

Kanuimanu Ponds restoration 

By 2004, the Kanuimanu Ponds were showing their age. After 34 years, the levees were extensively eroded and covered with invasive pickleweed, Batis maritima. The thick growth prevented young birds from moving between the ponds in attempts to gain access to foraging areas. During winter months when water level was high, the individual ponds would become connected as water flooded over the levees. Not only was this detrimental to the infrastructure, it limited visitors’ access.

In partnership with Ducks Unlimited, Inc., reconstruction of the ponds was initiated in 2004. The levees were built up in elevation and widened to prevent flooding. Slopes were formed to provide shallow water when ponds were full with water. The most benefit to waterbirds was the installation of a water distribution line to pump water into separate ponds, particularly during the dry season. Prior to the work, all invasive plants were removed. Refuge volunteers have out-planted native vegetation on the slopes that provides foraging area for Hawaiian coots and young stilts can walk through to move between ponds.

Mangrove removal 

Red mangrove along the northeast shore of the main pond have posed a problem since the refuge was established. The old stand of trees were so dense that nothing grew under its canopy and it served as a rookery for nonnative cattle egrets that pose a threat to nesting waterbirds. When the mangrove was removed, the native sedge kaluhā spread and established in its place. Water coverage in this area during winter has opened the area for use by Hawaiian coots and migratory waterfowl.

Old Baitfish ponds 

The baitfish ponds were constructed in the early 1970’s for aquaculture of baitfish species; however, the use of these ponds for waterbirds was minimal because of the thick coverage of nonnative, invasive plants on the levees and within the ponds. It was difficult to manage the vegetation and water in the six small, individual ponds so during restoration in 2007, all vegetation was removed (excluding small areas of native sedge) and the cross levees were partially removed to form islands. The result was an open pond with islands for nesting and restored water delivery. In 2008, a minimum of seven stilt pairs nested successfully.

Restoration efforts are continuous and pose challenges to maintain in these lowlands where the infusion of invasive plants is continuous. Other problem plants on the refuge include California bulrush (Scirpus), California grass, Indian marsh fleabane, Washingtonia palms, and large acreage of pickleweed (Batis maritima) covering the mudflats.