Three species of 'opihi, aquatic limpets, that cling to rocks on island shorelines, are found only in Hawai'i and play a key role in coastal biodiversity. These delicacies, a staple of the Hawaiian diet, were once carefully managed to ensure thriving populations. But increasing demand and unsustainable harvest have resulted in dwindling 'opihi populations across the state in the last century.
Seeking Sustainable Food Supplies
After monitoring and documenting a decline in 'opihi populations along two miles of coastline over six years, Kīpahulu ‘Ohana and Nā Mamo O Mū‘olea decided to revive the traditional Hawaiian practice of resting an area to reverse the decline. In consultation with the scientific community, the groups established voluntary “rest areas” in 2014 where 'opihi are not harvested. The “rest areas” give the populations a chance to recover and to re-populate other areas down-current. At their request, TNC has been working with the groups, kūpuna (respected elders), and government agencies in east Maui and with others in the academic community to improve understanding of 'opihi populations so that we can better care for them.
The community groups conduct ongoing outreach to ensure people know about the voluntary rest areas, and they continue to monitor 'opihi recovery along the coast. Their monitoring provides important insights into patterns of spawning and larval dispersal, guiding resource management decisions and improving the chances of restoring populations of this cultural delicacy so local communities can enjoy 'opihi long into the future.
To learn about the status of 'opihi populations, their importance in Hawaiian culture, and how to conduct pono harvesting, listen to Hawai'i Public Radio’s Bytemarks Café interview with Dr. Chris Bird of Texas A&M University, who leads the scientific research in East Maui, TNC’s Roxie Sylva, NOAA's Tia Brown, and Kīpahulu 'Ohana’s Scott Crawford.
Kīpahulu ‘Ohana and Nā Mamo O Mū‘olea share a deep commitment to perpetuating Hawaiian culture and practices from mauka to makai (the mountains to the sea) so their communities can continue to rely on east Maui’s lands and waters for a traditional subsistence lifestyle. The annual and increasingly popular East Maui Taro Festival supported by Kīpahulu ‘Ohana and Hāna Limu Festival organized and Nā Mamo O Mū‘olea are celebrations of this culture, lifestyle, and their efforts. The groups work in partnership with federal, state, and county agencies to restore health to the land and sea. TNC helped the groups develop Community Action Plans and conduct scientific surveys in support of their conservation efforts.
Beyond East Maui
Kīpahulu ‘Ohana and Nā Mamo O Mū‘olea are members of the Maui Nui Makai Network. The Network, which TNC supports, is comprised of community groups from Lāna‘i, Moloka‘i and Maui who use time and resources more efficiently and effectively by sharing knowledge and coordinating advocacy and education.
Learn more about our science, restoration, and how we help strengthen conservation management and leadership so Hawaiʻi's reefs can support healthy fisheries and prosperous communities long into the future.