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CRAMP Study Sites: Island of Moloka‘i

Geographic Name: Kamalo

CRAMP site code: MoKmo

Geographic Location: South coast of Moloka‘i (21° 02.3 'N, 156° '53.8W)

Chart showing Kamalo coastline. Red arrows show location of transect sites.

Chart showing Kamalo coastline. Red arrows show location of transect sites. (Click for larger image)

1993 NOAA aerial photo of the Kamalo area. Image provided by Steve Rohmann.

1993 NOAA aerial photo of the Kamalo area. Image provided by Steve Rohmann.

Physical Features:

This site lies below the crest of the extinct eastern volcano. The peak above Kamalo is named Kamakou, and is the highest point on Moloka‘i (1515 m or 4970 ft). Inland the steep mountain slopes are deeply eroded and cut by numerous gorges. The slopes are dry at lower elevations, with higher rainfall and nearly pristine forest farther upslope. The coastal plain here is the widest on Moloka‘i, and was formed from alluvial material deposited by the Kamalo Gulch. The shoreline consists of extensive muddy sand beaches. Offshore is a fringing reef varying in width from one half mile to one mile. The inner part is reef flat is silty sand. The outer portion is deeper with coarser sediments, increasing in coral cover near the outer margin. The reef slope shows good coral cover. Unique features of the area are the "blue holes" that lie to the east of Kamalo. This portion of the reef is bisected by canyons that appear to be submerged valleys or areas where reef development was retarded by fresh water and sediment discharged from Kamalo gulch. Another hypothesis is that the blue holes are "Karst" dissolution features undermining the carbonate reef structure. Eastern (upwind) vertical faces in the "blue holes" show with high cover by Porites compressa with low cover on the western (wave impacted) edge. Kamalo Harbor was built before the 1860's and once a major harbor facility on the island. Kamalo Wharf and Harbor are currently used only by local residents.

Reef Structure, Habitat Classification:

This area is characterized by an extremely wide reef flat with reef crest and fore reef extending out as a shelf. The reef flat has unique "blue holes" as discussed above. The offshore areas being monitored as CRAMP sites have over 80% coral coverage and has largely recovered from damage caused by dredging. Kamalo was a prime fishing area with extensive coral cover prior to a series of dredging operations in the area which began in the late 1960's. The dredging occurred on the reef flat east of Kamalo near Kalae Loa Harbor. The prevailing westward currents carried silt from the dredge operation down the coast and well past Kamalo. The fine silt covered and killed reefs downstream, killing the coral. Fish left the area which appeared to be a wasteland - everything covered with fine silt (Joe Reich, pers. com. 10/23/99). Even after the company went bankrupt and abandoned the dredging operation, the fine sediments continued to remobilize, preventing any recovery of the reefs for many years. As fine sediments were winnowed out and transported offshore, the area slowly began to improve. Reefs showed signs of recovery by mid 1970's. Recovery was well underway by early 1980's. The reefs again appeared to be healthy by mid 1980's with full recovery by 1990. The reefs off Kamalo appeared to be "pristine" by 1991 (James Maragos, personal communication), although much of the area actually represents a regenerated reef that was heavily damaged by siltation.

Chart showing area heavily impacted by dredging operation in the 1960's according to observations of Captain Joe Reich.

Chart showing area heavily impacted by dredging operation in the 1960's according to observations of Captain Joe Reich.

Photoquadrat from the Kamalo 3m transect.

Photoquadrat from the Kamalo 3m transect.

Kamalo, Moloka‘i 3m

Total coral cover: 74.6% 

Species Richness: 10

Dominant Species: Montipora capitata

Kamalo, Moloka‘i 10m

Total coral cover: 75.2% 

Species Richness: 6 

Dominant Species: Montipora capitata

Photoquadrats from the Kamalo site.

Adjacent Land Tenure, Land Use:

Residential use along shoreline. Steep mountain slopes are not in use or in conservation status. A quarry operation exists below Puu Papai.

Human Use Patterns:

Subsistence fishing is the major activity in this area with limited amount of commercial fishing.

Economic Value and Social Benefits:

The major economic activity of sustenance fishing is seen as an important part of the local culture and life style. The area is known for papio and weke on outer reef flat, and akule netted in nearby Kalaeloa Harbor. The inshore area is an important nursery ground for many species.

Status (Degree of Legal Protection):

Open access no special protection. Authority for managing the marine resources within three miles (4.8 km) of the high tide mark lies with the Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources. All laws pertaining to the management of state marine resources apply (see pamphlet "Hawai‘i Fishing regulations, September 1999", 51 pp. available from Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kalanimoku Building, 1151 Punchbowl St., Rm. 330, Honolulu, Hawai‘i).

Management Concerns:

The major contemporary concern is sedimentation. The area upslope appears to be overgrazed by feral animals, including axis deer, goats and pigs. Kamalo gulch discharges into a deeper channel on the reef and extensive sediment outflow can occur with heavy rains. Secondary concern is focused on overfishing. This is an important area for sustenance fishing and local inhabitants are concerned that this resource can be depleted, especially from commercial operators from outside of Moloka‘i. During the 1960's extensive dredging killed a major portion of the reef, but the reefs have slowly recovered. There are no plans for further dredging in the area in the near future.

Noteworthy Flora and Fauna:

Extensive beds of Porites compressa offshore, with extensive coral reef development and unique assemblages of organism in the blue holes.

Cultural and Historical Importance:

Fishponds, Smith-Bronte Landing site.

Scientific Importance and Research Potential:

This area is being monitored by CRAMP with extensive investigations by USGS on geologic history of the area and impact of human activity.

Study Site Summary of Results



Last Update: 02/24/2011

By: Dan Lager

Hawai‘i  Coral Reef Assessment & Monitoring Program

Hawai‘i  Institute of Marine Biology

P.O. Box 1346

Kāne‘ohe, HI 96744

808-236-7440 phone

808-236-7443 fax