Harboring the Wetland

Kahului, Maui once was home to birds and two inland fishponds.

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Jill Engledow

maui-wetlandsYour favorite store in Kahului may be on ground that once lay under the sea. Just over a century ago, much of the town was a giant wetland. When Kahului Bay was dredged in the early 1900s to deepen the harbor, the material that was removed was dumped on low-lying ground along the shore. In the process, the remains of an ancient fishpond disappeared.

Mauoni Fishpond was one of a pair that included Kanaha, now a bird sanctuary. Mauoni extended to the old County Fairgrounds area, near the present Safeway. Both Mauoni and Kanaha were naturally occurring, inland freshwater ponds whose shapes were altered by early Hawaiian fishpond builders. Though their early history and even the actual boundaries of the wetlands to which they belonged are uncertain, we know that the swampy Kahului of old came to an end with the harbor dredging. A network of canals still drains groundwater from beneath the town’s coral-fill foundation. And a glimpse of ancient Kahului survives in Kanaha Pond. Take a minute during one of those busy Kahului shopping days, and park in the sanctuary’s lot, off Haleakala Highway near Costco. A visit to the little bird observation shelter is a like mini-vacation in a timeless natural world that seems far from the traffic and bustle of modern Kahului.

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