Replanted taro field in He'eia, Windward O'ahu. © Grady Timmons/TNC

Stories in Hawai'i

Providing Food and Water Sustainably

Healthy fisheries and traditional agricultural systems can provide island communities with sustainable sources of food. TNC is partnering with motivated communities that are implementing traditional management systems to restore taro lo‘i, fishponds and nearshore fisheries that will increase local food security.

A volunteer builds a wall in the taro lo'i (field).
Building taro lo'i wall A volunteer builds a wall in the taro lo'i (field). © Grady Timmons/TNC

Restoring an Ahupua'a

In an ongoing effort to restore the He‘eia ahupuaʻa in Windward O‘ahu, we worked with community partner Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi to rebuild 10 acres of taro lo‘i and clear the estuary of six acres of invasive mangrove. We also tracked the effects of this restoration on reducing the flow of sediments and nutrients into Heʻeia fishpond and Kāne‘ohe Bay.

TNC-Hawai‘i has been working with government and community partners in He‘eia for more than a decade to restore the ahupua‘a— a traditional mountains-to-sea land management system where wetland taro farming and fishpond aquaculture enhance local food production and community and coastal resilience.

Schools of fish in Kaʻūpūlehu Marine Reserve in West Hawai‘i.
Ka‘ūpūlehu Marine Reserve Schools of fish in Kaʻūpūlehu Marine Reserve in West Hawai‘i. © Bryce Groark

Fisheries Recovery

Just two years into a 10-year rest period at the community-driven Kaʻūpūlehu Marine Reserve in West Hawaiʻi, TNC scientists measured a 60% increase in some important food fish species, compared to just a 3% increase outside the reserve. This early recovery demonstrates the key role coastal communities can play in restoring depleted fisheries and helping the State effectively manage 30% of Hawaiʻi’s nearshore waters by 2030. 

Kaʻūpūlehu was once renowned for its productive nearshore fisheries. But over the last 40 years, those fisheries have declined dramatically. In response, community members petitioned the State to allow them to rest a 3.6-mile stretch of coastline for 10 years. During the remaining years of the rest period, community members will continue to manage the area and work with the State to develop a fisheries management plan based on the latest science and local knowledge to guide sustainable harvest once the area reopens.

Donor Profile

Harold K.L. Castle Foundation

Terry George and Eric Co © John De Mello

The Harold K.L. Castle Foundation is one of Hawai‘i’s largest private foundations and a longtime supporter of TNC’s community-based efforts to restore the health and resiliency of Hawai‘i’s  nearshore reefs and fisheries.

“TNC has been a critical lynchpin in the work to improve effective management of our nearshore areas,” says Terry George, the Foundation’s president and CEO. “They provide technical, scientific and policy support to almost everyone. They have also trained people now filling important roles in marine conservation across the state.” 

Like TNC, Castle is a big believer in community-based marine management. Eric Co, Castle’s senior program officer for ocean resiliency, calls TNC a leader in the movement to use science-based solutions driven by communities.  “What we’ve learned is that it’s a very potent formula,” he says.

Also like TNC, Castle stands strongly behind the State’s initiative to protect 30% of our nearshore waters by 2030.  “We’ve made 30x30 our North Star,” says George. “It just makes sense if we are all headed in the same direction and have the same sail plan.”