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State acquires $26M from Biden to fund coastal climate change initiatives

Posted on May 1, 2023

The U.S. Department of Commerce is slated to give $26 million to eight climate change resiliency projects in Hawaiʻi. It’s part of the Biden Administration’s Climate-Ready Coasts initiative, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Three projects under The University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program will use the funding to tackle marine debris.

One program will study the use of aerial drones to detect trash. This project will receive $1.8 million to research the most effective method to find garbage in Hawaiʻi’s shallow waters.

“We have to be careful when we do use drones because they can disturb marine mammals,” said Mary Donohue, the program development and national partnership specialist with Hawaiʻi Sea Grant.

Another Hawaiʻi Sea Grant project will receive $2.9 million to repurpose plastic waste into asphalt roads. This project is in partnership with Hawaiʻi Pacific University. There will be a centralized storage unit for beach and ocean clean-up nonprofits to collect plastic waste such as fishing nets.

Asphalt uses petroleum as a binder. Virgin plastic can be reduced by recycling marine waste on the roads. This project is expected to turn 40 tons of garbage into roads per year.

A third program was awarded $299,000 and will share climate-resilience plans with American territory Pacific Islands. These islands are disproportionately affected by ocean garbage because the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre pushes the trash onto their shores.

“Marine debris doesn’t abide by national boundaries — it affects all of the Pacific Islands and it’s really a global issue. We hope to connect with partners in other Pacific Islands as well,” said Eileen Nalley, ocean and coast ecosystem health specialist with Hawaiʻi Sea Grant.

Hawaiʻi Sea Grant will partner with Guam Sea Grant, American Samoa Community College and Marshal Islands Conservation Society to share climate-change resiliency methods.

“Any innovation developed, any advance, and we expect there to be many, is going to be shared freely with the Pacific Islands with the insular Pacific and all the partners. So this technology will not be proprietary. It’ll be shared so everyone around the Pacific Rim can better detect, remove and transport this very harmful type of ocean pollution,” Donohue said.

The Conservation International Foundation will receive the biggest funding of $8.9 million to construct coral reefs using a 3D printer. The printed concrete would serve as a foundation for corals to grow to eventually build a natural reef. This project will focus on Waikīkī’s coral reefs.

About $465,000 will be allocated to Kuleana Coral Reefs to train residents living in West Oʻahu in reef conservation. Its Community Dive Program will give professional coral restoration certificates to those who complete the training.

“As ocean temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, we must prioritize sustainable climate solutions that protect our coastlines and the communities that call them home,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.

The local organization Mālama Maunalua will get $7.8 million to restore watersheds and reefs in Oʻahu’s heavily urbanized areas. The nonprofit organization will use the Native Hawaiian ahupuaʻa system to study the flow of water from land to ocean and figure out the best way to build climate-resilient watersheds.

Other projects include restoring the reefs in West Maui and South Molokaʻi with the Coral Reef Alliance and restoring the flow of water into taro fields and fish ponds with Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.


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