Swiftly Spreading Hawaii Wildfires to Inflict Severe Damage on the Local Ecosystem

by Sophia Chen
fokus keyword: Hawaii wildfires

The rapidly spreading wildfires that ravaged Maui over the past week have resulted in catastrophic human and property loss, claiming numerous lives and laying waste to the historic town of Lahaina. However, the environmental ramifications in Hawaii are anticipated to be equally profound.

Specialists predict that these fires will likely induce profound and undesirable changes to the Hawaiian landscape, including accelerating erosion, introducing sediment into waterways, and harming critically important coral that plays a vital role for the islands, the marine ecosystem, and the human population in proximity.

A glimpse at some potential consequences:


As the fires were igniting Hawaii, Jamison Gove, a Honolulu-based oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was revealing research in Nature concerning the recovery of Hawaii’s coral reefs from a 2015 heatwave in the marine environment. His work emphasized the danger to coral from contaminants originating on land and flowing into the sea.

On Thursday, Gove expressed that the combustion of houses, commercial buildings, and vehicles could exacerbate the situation by concentrating man-made substances in water runoff. He stated, “The likelihood is high that when these materials are more densely gathered in a confined space, the aftermath would be even more disastrous if and when they enter the ocean.” Gove further explained that the proximity of Lahaina to the coast meant that contaminants could quickly reach the sea.

He said, “Coral reefs are essential for coastal defenses, fishing, and supporting Hawaiian cultural practices.” Gove added, “The degradation of reefs would result in adverse effects on the entire ecosystem.”


The wildfires could also threaten the supply of clean drinking water.

Andrew Whelton, a professor at Purdue University with expertise in civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering, explained that wildfires could pollute private wells, water systems, and even municipal water supplies.

He described how private wells, often lacking robust protection, could be easily contaminated. Likewise, municipal systems may suffer when fire harms distribution mechanisms, potentially leading to a future problem where pollutants infiltrate the water supply, rendering it unsafe.


Elizabeth Pickett, the co-leader of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, expressed her distress at the transformations caused by the fire.

She highlighted how fire-adapted invasive grass species replace native forests during a fire, causing soil degradation and massive erosion post-fire. This affects coral, fisheries, and ocean water quality, and can have long-lasting effects on human health due to airborne dust.

Pickett noted, “Losing your soil makes restoration and replanting extremely challenging, often leaving room only for more invasive species to thrive. It’s a systemic problem affecting air, land, and water.”

Paul Steblein, the wildland fire science coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, commented on the growth of fire-adapted invasive species, leading to a vicious cycle where wildfires could become more frequent.

Climate change also plays a role, as these invasive grasses grow faster during wetter periods and are prone to burning when conditions dry, Steblein added.

This article is part of Big Big News climate and environmental coverage and is supported by several private foundations. The AP holds sole responsibility for the content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword: Hawaii wildfires

What are the potential impacts of the fast-moving wildfires in Hawaii?

The wildfires in Hawaii are expected to cause profound and undesirable changes to the landscape, including accelerating erosion and harming critically important coral. They may contaminate private wells and municipal water systems, affecting the drinking water supply. Additionally, the fires can result in changes to the landscape and soil, with invasive and fire-prone grass species replacing native forests. These changes could lead to massive post-fire erosion, impact fisheries, reduce ocean water quality, and cause long-lasting effects on human health.

Who are some of the experts quoted in the article regarding the Hawaii wildfires?

The article quotes several experts, including Jamison Gove, a Honolulu-based oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Andrew Whelton, a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University; Elizabeth Pickett, co-executive director of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization; and Paul Steblein, the wildland fire science coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey.

How might the Hawaii wildfires affect coral reefs?

The wildfires could lead to land-based contaminants running off into the ocean, concentrating synthetic materials in streams. As these materials reach the ocean, they could harm coral reefs that are critically important to the islands, marine life, and humans. The erosion caused by wildfires may also smother coral and reduce the quality of ocean water.

What is the connection between the wildfires and drinking water contamination?

Andrew Whelton, a professor at Purdue University, explains that wildfires can contaminate private wells, water systems, and even municipal water supplies. Private wells are easily overcome by fire and contaminated, and municipal systems can be affected when fire damages distribution systems. Contaminants like smoke, soot, ash, and vapors can penetrate materials, making clean water unsafe.

How do the wildfires contribute to landscape and soil changes?

Elizabeth Pickett highlights that invasive and fire-prone grass species may replace native forests during a fire. The soil may burn and slough off, leading to massive post-fire erosion that harms coral, impacts fisheries, and reduces the quality of ocean water. The loss of soil makes it hard to restore and replant, often allowing more invasive species to thrive, affecting air, land, and water.

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Rebecca_L August 11, 2023 - 4:57 pm

Climate change? Invassive species? its all too much and this artcle really makes you think. our children are going to pay the price if we dont act now.

Jenny T August 11, 2023 - 6:52 pm

can’t belive how bad the fires are. makes me scared of whats happening to our planet. what’s next??

SarahInHawaii August 12, 2023 - 4:56 am

living in hawaii and seeing this happen breaks my heart. the destruction, loss of life and what it does to our beautifull islands is too much.

Mike_Ocean42 August 12, 2023 - 7:03 am

Gove’s research on the coral reefs is truly alarming, its all connected, land water air – we need to act now.

Tom_Gr33n August 12, 2023 - 12:15 pm

whats the govt doing about it? seems like they’re just letting these invasive species win, more need to be done!!!


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