We're helping to restore wetlands, estuaries, and coral reefs to build coastal and community resilience.
In partnership with Kāko‘o ʻŌiwi, TNC is reintroducing traditional farming to the Heʻeia wetlands to minimize flood damage, reduce sediments and nutrients flowing out onto the reefs of Kāneʻohe Bay, and provide healthy food and clean water to the local community.
Promoting Local Food and Tradition
At Heʻeia, native Hawaiian management practices are shaping conservation. With a lease over 400 acres, Kākoʻo ‘Ōiwi is removing invasive vegetation and replanting the wetlands with traditional lo‘i kalo (taro fields) and other lowland crops. The group supplies restaurants and other local outlets with poi and produce and will soon begin replanting upland areas with traditional foods such as breadfruit and banana.
Using Science As Our Guide
TNC scientists are working with Kāko‘o ʻŌiwi to document the benefits of restoring lowland agriculture, including how lo‘i filter sediments and absorb nutrients that would otherwise flow directly onto Kāne‘ohe Bay's reefs. This information helps ensure we pursue strategies most likely to reduce pressures on coral reefs and nearshore fisheries. Improving fresh water flow is also helping reestablish habitat for native fish and other freshwater species that once dominated wetland streams.
Pursuing a Shared Vision
This project is part of an ambitious effort initiated by the Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club to restore the entire He'eia ahupua'a, a traditional land division extending from mauka to makai (mountains to sea). The effort garnered strong community support and grassroots non-profits are leading restoration of He‘eia’s upland forests, wetlands, and fishpond. Papahana Kualoa is working with Hui Kū Maoli Ola, a native plant nursery, to restore the uplands and Paepae O He‘eia is restoring the ancient 88-acre fishpond, while TNC works with Kāko‘o ʻŌiwi to restore the wetlands. We have partnered with the State Division of Aquatic Resources and University of Hawaiʻi to restore the adjacent coral reefs in Kāne‘ohe Bay.
The strength of this partnership attracted national attention and, in 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named He‘eia a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), a designation that brings with it federal funding for research and education. When the restoration is complete, fresh water will once again flow unimpeded from upland forest through the wetlands to the reefs of Kāne‘ohe Bay, nourishing native plants and animals and the people of He‘eia.
Kāko‘o ʻŌiwi hosts community work events on the 2nd Saturday of each month from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Thousands of volunteers are contributing to the restoration, in exchange for the opportunity to learn and practice cultural traditions. Join them and help weed and maintain existing loʻi kalo, build ʻauwai (water channels) for new loʻi kalo, and clear invasive vegetation. Visit the Kāko‘o ʻŌiwi website to register and get details.
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.