Forgetting Sarah Marshes: The Importance of Wetlands

2017-11-22 08:57:02

When visitors travel to the island of Oahu, 90% of the time they will be staying in Waikiki. Waikiki has been seeing tourists since 1830’s, and was originally the playground for Hawaiian Royalty. The Moana Hotel was the first to open its doors in 1901, in anticipation of an increase in visitation. In 2015, 8.6 million visitors spent more than $15 billion dollars while on vacation in Hawaii.
Most people driving around Waikiki don’t realize that the entire area used to be marshland. Waikiki translates to “sprouting fresh water” and the Ala Wai Canal is an artificial waterway that was constructed to divert water in the 1920’s. Lucius Pinkham was the civil engineering mastermind behind the construction of the drainage canal. He considered the existing wet plots of Waikiki to be unsanitary, and wanted to convert the area into a tourist attraction. His vision became a reality when the Hawaiian Dredging Company began construction in 1921 and ultimately completed the task in 1928. The almost 2 mile long canal turned Waikiki into a peninsula, and separated it entirely from Honolulu. The two areas are connected by three bridges: McCully St, Kalakaua Ave, and Ala Moana Blvd.
Marshes are important. They are often misunderstood. They were thought for many years to be a breeding ground for mosquitos and disease. Scientists now know that salt marshes are among the world's most productive ecosystems based on the nutrient-rich decaying plant material (detritus) they produce. When Waikiki was transformed from a wetland into a residential and commercial area, the fate of the surrounding ecosystems changed forever. Let’s discuss why!
Marshes are natural filters:
The vegetation that exists within marshes helps to remove excess nutrients from the water, such as phosphorus and nitrogen. The buildup of these pollutants can ultimately impact the health of the surrounding areas; in this case, its Waikiki’s coral reefs. Right now, the Ala Wai canal is not safe for swimming or fishing, and is considered one of the most polluted waterways in the state.
Marshes prevent flooding:
The Army Corps of Engineers are extremely concerned about the level of flooding in the Ala Wai Canal. Normally, wetlands act as an absorbent for excess water and runoff but removal of the marsh has caused flooding to be a more serious concern in Waikiki. Estimates say that a 100-year flood event could cost the state more than $300 million in damages alone.
Marshes act as nurseries:
Wetlands also provide habitat for numerous fish, bird, and invertebrates. This is a refuge for juvenile fish to grow and flourish before they are large enough to migrate out into the open ocean.
Now that many of the salt marshes have been destroyed across the United State, we realize what valuable services they provide for us. For the health of the world's oceans and for a variety of aquatic life, some state and federal governments have created legislation to protect existing wetlands and restore contaminated salt marshes. Removing fill, replacing soils, replanting native wetland species to stabilize erosion, removing invasive species (such as Phragmites), and removing pollution sources are all wetland restoration techniques. Find out if there is a marsh near you that could use some TLC, the ocean will thank you!