Marine Conservation

Working with Communities

Working with communities is the cornerstone of the Hawai‘i Marine Program. The Conservancy uses a community-based approach because we recognize that the long-term success of efforts to protect the nearshore marine environment is dependent upon the support of the communities living in and around the resources.

The program’s primary goal is to build local capacity—empowering communities that already have a deep understanding of their area’s marine resources with the management tools needed to care for them. In the process, the Conservancy also seeks to build public support for increased marine protection, improved resource stewardship and stronger enforcement statewide.

Currently, Conservancy efforts are focused on six coastal areas on O‘ahu, Maui and Hawa‘i Island. These areas were chosen because they all have:

  • a rich and unique diversity of marine life
  • manageable threats
  • highly-motivated local communities that have requested the Conservancy’s assistance

Maunalua Bay: This East O‘ahu bay is infested with an invasive alga that is smothering its reef flats and hindering the recovery of its once abundant marine life. Working closely with the community group Mālama Maunalua, the Conservancy is using federal stimulus funds to remove the invasive seaweed from 23 acres of the bay, and seeking additional funds to clean the remaining area.

Kāne‘ohe Bay: The Conservancy is working with the State and the University of Hawai‘i to rid the bay of invasive algae. Scientists are using underwater vacuums mounted on boats to clean invasive algae off the reefs, then seeding the reefs with native sea urchins that eat the algae and keep it from growing back.

The Conservancy is also partnering with the He‘eia community on an ambitious ahupua‘a (mountains-to-sea) project to restore traditional taro lo`i , fishponds and native wetlands. The aim is to provide local food security and reduce sediment that is flowing into the bay and destroying its coral reefs, fisheries and nursery grounds.


‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u: Maui’s spectacular Āhihi-Kīna‘u Natural Area Reserve has the highest level of legal protection of any marine area in the main Hawaiian Islands, but no management plan in place. To fill this gap, the Conservancy led an extended community planning process to create a long-term management and financing plan for the reserve. It is now working with stakeholders to secure State approval and begin implementation.

Hāna Coast: Native Hawaiian communities in East Maui’s historic Hāna region are highly motivated to curb the overharvesting practices that are depleting their fisheries. The Conservancy is assisting them in this effort, helping to build their capacity to manage local resources by re-instituting traditional stewardship practices and kapu.

Hawai‘i Island

Ka‘ūpūlehu: Historic Ka‘ūpūlehu was once coveted by Hawai‘i chiefs for its rich marine life, but today that marine life is at risk due to increased and unsustainable harvesting. To address these threats, the Conservancy is partnering with area residents to create a community managed marine area and restore traditional marine stewardship and fishing practices.

Puakō Bay: This jewel-like bay is a designated fisheries management area, a marine protected area and part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Nevertheless, its fish populations are declining and illegal fishing activity is prevalent. The Conservancy is working with the community to enhance protection and enforcement. It is also conducting research to remove an invasive fish species that may be affecting native reef fish populations' ability to replenish themselves.


‘Opihi Partnership: Ancient Hawaiians sustainably harvested ‘opihi, a small, cone-shaped limpet that keeps shoreline algae in check. Today, populations of this island delicacy are scarce due to over harvesting and local demand. To better understand and enhance ‘opihi populations, the Conservancy brought together cultural practitioners, scientists, local communities and others in a shared quest to gather baseline data statewide and establish sustainable management practices to ensure the survival of this iconic species.


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