Mud in Hanalei Bay

SOURCE: Laurel Douglass (
SUBHEAD: A recent buildup of mud at the bottom of Hanalei Bay has discolored the ocean and may be toxic.  

By Terry Lilley on 11 November 2011 for Island Breath - 
Image above: Terry Lilley removing dead coral buried in mud at bottom of Hanalei Bay. A bacterial infection followed.

Watson Okubo Department of Health (DOH) Honolulu HI Aloha Watson, Thanks for responding to my health issues in Hanalei Bay after scuba diving a few months ago when I was rushed to the hospital with toxic poisoning.

At the time we talked about doing some testing of the mud that has built up in Hanalei Bay over the past year, smothering the reef and corals. For over a year now there has not been one clear day of visibility in the bay and most of the year the bay was muddy brown around the pier. There is currently over three feet of thick mud covering the bottom right off the best surf break. I have taken over 100 hours of video in the bay over the past year documenting these problems.

 I discussed this matter in person in the Federal Building (Honolulu) a week ago with Jeff Newman (Deputy Field Supervisor) from the Fish and Wildlife Service and also with Take Tomson from NOAA in the past and showed them my time lapsed pictures of this mud from underwater.

We now know that the US Fish & Wildlife Service berms they built years ago are falling apart and adding excessive sediment into the river and flowing out into the bay. We also know that several private developments near the river have added additional thick mud from under the wetland, into the river and bay. We have been researching the use of old pesticides and "agent orange" in the upper Hanalei River years ago, and have had several alarming conversations with the older taro farmers about the chemicals sprayed over the river around the time of the Vietnam war. Some still have burn marks from the spraying. These dangerous chemicals could easily be in the mud that is now flowing into the bay.

I know Surfrider does weekly surface water testing for bacteria which is awesome but they do not test the heavy mud building up on the sea floor, to my knowledge. I have asked Carl Berg about this type of testing. Do to the "possibility" that dangerous chemicals may be in this mud, can we get this thick gooey mud tested for heavy metals and other toxins? I can collect samples at different depths in the bay from 3 feet deep to 60 feet deep and I can have another diver video the sample collecting with GPS, time and date documented. We could give the samples directly to the DOH on a boat above to be sealed, labeled and tested so there is no debate where and when the samples were collected. The news could also come along to document the story.

 If the DOH will not pay for mud sampling in the Hanalei Bay then where can we have samples tested and I will raise the funds to do the testing myself. Biologically there is enough information available to warrant the testing of the mud in Hanalei Bay and alert the public if any toxins are found.

Maybe it will all turn out clean. If so it will go a long way to making the surfers, divers and tourist feel comfortable about surfing, diving and swimming in this foul looking muck that seems to be building up in the bay and is not washing out with the surf. I have video of the reefs in the bay many times over since 2006. Back then when mud washed into the sea from a flood it was cleaned off the reef and sea floor quickly by the surf. For the last two years this process has stopped and the mud just keeps building up and people are getting sick from swimming in the bay with increasing numbers. Even if some of the mud is still coming from the 2009 flood (like some suggest) I feel it still needs to be tested.

If you are already testing this mud due to my previous request, then please let us know the results so we can make them public. Attached is a picture of me pulling up a coral head that was alive in 2006, and now was buried under two feet of thick mud off the "bowl" at 30 feet deep in Hanalei Bay. I got serious infections within 12 hours of removing this coral from the mud. I take a walk almost every day on the Hanalei Pier and I had MANY tourist this summer ask me why the bay is so brown and muddy when they had seen it years ago and the water was crystal clear.

Developers now days use 10 year old pictures of Hanalei Bay to try and sell homes. No one would buy a home if they saw what the bay looked like in real time. Just check the front cover of Homes and Land Magazine in Kauai out on the stands today, and you will see what I mean! The picture is so old it is missing grown trees and new homes in it! It does have the beautiful blue sea Hanalei used to have, and hopefully will have again someday.

We could use your help in this process.
Aloha, Terry Lilley Marine Biologist Hanalei HI


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