Generally unseen and infrequently measured, submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) can transport potentially large loads of nutrients and other land-based contaminants to coastal ecosystems. To examine this linkage we employed algal bioassays, benthic community analysis, and geochemical methods to examine water quality and community parameters of nearshore reefs adjacent to a variety of potential, land-based nutrient sources on Maui. Three common reef algae, Acanthophora spicifera, Hypnea musciformis, and Ulva spp. were collected and/or deployed at six locations with SGD. Algal tissue nitrogen (N) parameters (δ15N, N %, and C:N) were compared with nutrient and δ15N-nitrate values of coastal groundwater and nearshore surface water at all locations. Benthic community composition was estimated for ten 10-m transects per location. Reefs adjacent to sugarcane farms had the greatest abundance of macroalgae, low species diversity, and the highest concentrations of N in algal tissues, coastal groundwater, and marine surface waters compared to locations with low anthropogenic impact. Based on δ15N values of algal tissues, we estimate ca. 0.31 km2 of Kahului Bay is impacted by effluent injected underground at the Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility (WRF); this region is barren of corals and almost entirely dominated by colonial zoanthids. Significant correlations among parameters of algal tissue N with adjacent surface and coastal groundwater N indicate that these bioassays provided a useful measure of nutrient source and loading. A conceptual model that uses Ulva spp. tissue δ15N and N % to identify potential N source(s) and relative N loading is proposed for Hawai'i. These results indicate that SGD can be a significant transport pathway for land-based nutrients with important biogeochemical and ecological implications in tropical, oceanic islands.