Kawainui Marsh, called the “Great Fresh Water,” is an unlikely and special part of O‘ahu, a natural 1,000-acre wetland nestled between the Ko‘olau mountain range and the beachside community of Kailua. It is an ancient watershed fed by rainwater from the Ko‘olaus which feeds first into the streams of Kahanaiki and Maunawili which then merge with Kapa‘a Stream. The water then quietly filters through the majestic marshland – home to migratory and endangered waterbirds, sour grass, cat tails and Monkeypod – before flowing cleansed into Kailua Bay.
While modern development has risen around it, the marsh remains a gem of the Windward side ecosystem, the state’s largest emergent wetland protected first by early Hawaiians who oversaw its abundance of natural resources as a source of nourishment and pride. In modern times Kawainui Marsh has been protected by environmentally-conscious groups such as Kaneohe Ranch, the Lani-Kailua Outdoor Circle, Hawaii Audubon Society, Kailua Historic Society and Ho‘olaulima Ia Kawainui, a network of Hawaiian and community organizations. Together, with many other groups too numerous to name, they have saved Kawainui Marsh from development and enhanced the marsh though restoration projects and visionary planning.
Kawainui Marsh supports four endangered bird species and is a habitat for migratory waterfowl and wintering shorebirds. Some of the birds that make the marsh home include stilts, moorhens, coots, ducks and the black-crowned night heron.
Residents and visitors to Kailua and the Windward side of O‘ahu enjoy Kawainui’s restful and rejuvenating powers. After the New Year’s Eve flood of 1987 forced Coconut Grove residents to leave their homes, the Army Corps of Engineers raised the level of an earthen levee to protect both residents and denizens of the marsh. Today, the mile-long winding dike, designed to blend in with its natural surroundings, has become a favorite place for walkers, joggers and birdwatchers to experience the marsh.