Campaign Encourages Chemical-Free Landscaping to Protect Coral Reefs

Maui Nui Marine Resource Council staff, Meredith Beeson and Grace Sliver, examine landscape plants and discuss methods of ecological land management as part of the organization’s new pesticide education program. Courtesy photo.

The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council has launched an education campaign to encourage private and public landowners, golf courses, and landscapers to move to ecological land management.

The organization launched the campaign after conducting research into the effects of toxic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers on coral reefs and marine animals.

“Many people want to help protect the ocean but don’t realize that organic land management can help them do it,” said Grace Silver, project and research coordinator for the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “This campaign will educate and encourage private and public landowners to abandon the use of landscape chemicals in order to protect the marine environment and create a healthier and more prosperous microclimate on their own land.”

The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council is working with Beyond Pesticides, the National Organic Farming Association, and local organic land management experts to provide helpful information for landowners and land management experts to help the community move to organic land management.

“Because the cumulative effects can be so detrimental, every single property that makes the switch helps create a cleaner, healthier environment,” said the organizers.

“Numerous scientific studies have shown that the use of synthetic chemicals on land has significant and detrimental effects on coral reef ecosystems and aquatic species,” said Silver. “Some of these negative effects are coral reef bleaching, eutrophication, biomagnification, inhibition of reproduction and the increase in disease in fish and marine animals.”

“Through our research, we have found that much of the chemicals that are applied to our land for landscaping and pest control often end up in the ocean,” said Meredith Beeson, project and research coordinator with the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “Once these chemicals get into the aquatic environment, they damage coral reefs by affecting their ability to feed and reproduce.”

“To protect our oceans, this chemical runoff needs to be prevented (or ideally stopped) from reaching the ocean,” Beeson said. “The solution is organic land management.”

According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics by David Pimentel, less than 0.1 percent of pesticides used for pest control reach their target pests. According to the MNMRC, more than 99.9 percent of the pesticides used end up in the environment, where they harm public health and beneficial biota and contaminate the soil, water and atmosphere of the ecosystem.

According to the MNMRC, some of the problems caused by landscape chemicals and synthetic fertilizers entering the marine environment include:

  • Tumor-causing diseases in turtles as documented by Celia Smith and Walter Zimmermann at the University of Hawaii – Manoa.
  • Creation of dead zones through the process of eutrophication, as documented by InTeGrate under “Managing the runoff to reduce the dead zone”.
  • Coral reef degradation leading to economic impacts as documented by the University of Hawaii, Manoa, in Economic Value of Hawaii’s Nearshore Reefs.
  • Death of zooxanthelle (coral symbiont) causing coral bleaching as documented in the Marine Pollution Bulletin by CM Shaw, J. Brodie and JF Mueller.
  • Potential human health effects from chemical exposure as documented by the Agency for the Register of Toxic Substances and Diseases.

“Whether you have a small garden or run a large farm, organic farming can help protect Maui’s coral reefs and aquatic organisms,” Beeson said. “Another advantage of ecological landscaping is that the land can ultimately sustain itself without major human intervention, which saves time, energy and money in the long term.”

The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council has created a resource webpage at https://www.mauireefs.org/what-we-do/pesticides/ to help land managers, property owners and landscapers find more information about organic farming. These resources focus on common issues in Maui County.

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