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Sea-Level Rise Modeling as a Catalyst for Effective Coastal Management in West Hawaii

This project began in September 2016 and was completed in August 2019

In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and the Hawaii Sentinel Site Cooperative, we are evaluating the effects of sea level rise of unique coastal habitats on the west coast of Hawaii. Predictions of sea level rise impacts will guide updates to habitat management plans for the regions.

Why We Care 
The west coast of Hawaii supports groundwater-fed anchialine pools (landlocked bodies of water with a subterranean connection to the ocean), wetlands, and fishponds that occur throughout the west Hawaii and support numerous endangered and endemic species as well as provide key ecosystem services to natural and human communities. Predicting the effect of sea-level rise (SLR) on these ecosystems requires models that incorporate groundwater levels which are elevated above sea levels and will exacerbate flooding in the porous basalt aquifer.

What We Are Doing
This project will improve management effectiveness of coastal areas based on the predicted response of wetland, fishpond, and anchialine ecosystems to rising sea levels in the west Hawaii area. To accomplish this, we will refine existing water level models with high resolution groundwater data and use the improved models. These improved models will then be used to assess the potential ecological impacts of changes in sea level on high priority groundwater-fed wetlands, fishponds, and anchialine pools and how will these impacts will affect the ecosystem services along the coast. Based the results of these assessments, the project will determine what priority management and policy actions can be implemented to reduce the vulnerability of these coastal habitats and communities.

To maximize stakeholder engagement and application of project results, the project team will coordinate a series of workshops to evaluate and update the South Kohala Conservation Action Plan High resolution data on SLR. In addition, results of project analyses will be incorporated into geospatial products including maps and the online decision support tool—Coastal Resilience (coastalresilience.org)—to aid conservation planning and management actions for ecological targets effects on local habitats and processes will be a key part of this effort.

What We’ve Accomplished
The tool informed the first restoration of an anchialine pool since 1990.  It guided updates to South Kohala Regional Management plans for prioritizing land suitable for conservation to enable landward migration of pools and specific pools that are compatible for restoration via invasive species removal.   A local community non-profit at Kiholo Bay (North Kona) is using the app to identify adaptation measures for private landowners and restoration priorities for anchialine pool management within their Board of Trustees and staff meetings, and the County of Hawaii is incorporating the insights from the maps into their update of the Hawaii County General Plan.

The project is led by The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii and is part of the NCCOS Effects of Sea Level Rise Program (ESLR).

Partners: The Nature Conservancy, University of California, Berkeley.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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