Finding Sanctuary: Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Posted by Mapuana Andrade on Wednesday, May 10th, 2023 at 6:21pm
At the very beginning of Kihei town’s entrance and just past Maalaea, there is a serene oasis of natural beauty that makes everyone pause: the Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge.
Covering 700 acres, this refuge expands along both sides of the highway and was established in 1992 to protect and conserve the endangered Hawaiian waterbirds and their habitats and is an unofficial landmark along the scenic drive heading towards Kihei from Maalaea.
The Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is an important sanctuary for various bird species that are native to Hawaii. The refuge is home to a variety of waterbirds, including the Hawaiian coot, Hawaiian duck, and the endangered Hawaiian stilt. As the largest lowland wetland remaining on Maui, visitors can learn about how the refuge is also a resting spot for migratory birds, such as the Pacific golden plover, and the ruddy turnstone, who fly thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Siberia to the warm waters of Hawaii.
One of the unique features of the Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is its boardwalk, which is accessible to visitors. The boardwalk stretches for about 1.5 miles and takes guests on a tour through the wetland habitats of the refuge, offering educational placards along the journey. Walking along the boardwalk is a fantastic way to observe the various bird species that inhabit the refuge, without disturbing their natural habitats.
Aside from its ecological importance, the Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is also a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The refuge is a great place to learn about the native wildlife of Hawaii and the various conservation efforts being undertaken to protect them. Visitors can explore the visitor’s center, take guided tours, attend educational programs, and participate in volunteer activities to help protect the fragile ecosystem of the refuge.
The Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is an important conservation site for various bird species that are endemic to Hawaii. Here are the top 10 bird species with their found in the refuge, along with some information about them, including their Hawaiian namea:
The ʻAlae keʻokeʻo or Hawaiian coot is an endangered waterbird that is found only in Hawaii. They are black with a white bill and are distinguished by their red eyes. They are year-round residents of the refuge.
The Koloa or Hawaiian duck is a small, brown duck with a green head. They are also an endangered species found only in Hawaii.
The Aeʻo or Hawaiian stilt is an endangered waterbird that is found only in Hawaii. They are black and white with long, pink legs and a long, thin bill.
The Nēnē or Hawaiian goose is the state bird of Hawaii. They are a medium-sized goose with a distinctive black and white face and a honking call
The Kolea or Pacific golden plove is a migratory bird that breeds in Alaska and Siberia and winters in Hawaii. They have a striking black and white plumage and are known for their distinctive whistle-like call.
The ʻAkekeke or Ruddy turnstone is a migratory bird that breeds in the Arctic and winters in Hawaii. They are named for their habit of flipping over rocks and shells to find food.
The ʻIwa or Great Frigatebird is a large, black bird with a distinctive, long, hooked bill and a wingspan of up to 8 feet. They are known for their ability to fly for days without landing.
The ʻAukuʻu or Black-crowned night-heron is a wading bird with a black crown and back and a white belly. They are often seen hunting for food at night.
The ʻŪlili or Wandering Tattler is a small, gray and white bird that breeds in Alaska and winters in Hawaii. They are named for their habit of running along the shoreline and wading in shallow water.
The Koloa mapu or Northern Pintail is a medium-sized duck with a long, pointed tail. They breed in the northern United States and Canada and winter in Hawaii.
The Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge is about 20 miles south of Lahaina and 10 miles north of the Maui airport. It's also just a short drive from the luxury resort area of Wailea. The refuge is easily accessible by car, and there is parking available at both the visitor’s center and at the boardwalk entrance. Visitors can easily make a day trip to the refuge to enjoy the natural beauty and learn about the important conservation work being done there. For more information about the Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and the birds that inhabit it, please visit the refuge's official website and the Friends of Kealia Pond website.
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