Big Island, Hawaii
North Kona Coast Fishermen Big Island, Hawaii © ©2010 John De Mello

Places We Protect


Island of Hawaiʻi

TNC scientists have been conducting coral reef and fish surveys here since 2009, helping to support sustainable fisheries.

The coastal fishing grounds of Ka'ūpūlehu were once renowned for their abundance of fish, lobster, octopus, and ‘opihi, a local delicacy. The exceptional ecological management systems devised by Native Hawaiians undoubtedly helped maintain this abundance, but as modern systems evolved and replaced them, marine life began to decline. In fact, monitoring efforts since the early 1990s show coral cover and fish abundance have significantly declined, reinforcing the observations of kūpuna (elders) and other longtime residents.

Blending Science and Tradition

The Ka'ūpūlehu Marine Life Advisory Committee (KMLAC), a group of local landowners, businesses, advocacy groups, and families with ancestral ties to the area, has been working for two decades to restore coral reefs and fish populations through improved collaborative management with the State.

At the group’s request, TNC scientists have been conducting coral reef and fish surveys since 2009. The information we compiled helped to ensure the KMLAC’s recommended amendments to Hawai'i Administrative Rules combined the best available science with traditional and customary practices. We also partnered with local and international universities to discover, using cutting-edge DNA analyses, how fish larvae travel from Ka'ūpūlehu along the north Kona coast, replenishing fisheries in other communities.

Securing Hawai'i's First Community-Driven Fish Replenishment Area

In 2016 with widespread community support, the State amended Hawai'i Administrative Rules to establish a 10-year rest period on harvest along a 3.6-mile stretch of the Ka'ūpūlehu coastline. This action will give fish time to grow and reproduce, so the fishery can recover and provide for sustainable fishing in the future.

During the rest period, TNC scientists and community volunteers will conduct surveys to assess changes in the health of coral reefs and fish populations. Using a recently-developed engagement process called FishPath, we will also work with government and community partners to develop a sustainable fisheries management plan to implement after the rest period. Learn more about how FishPath is setting fisheries on the path to sustainability.


Planning for the Future in a Changing Climate

For the first time in history, the Hawaiian Islands experienced back-to-back coral bleaching events caused by higher-than-normal ocean temperatures in 2014 and 2015. Since these events are expected to continue, TNC scientists joined forces with federal and state partners to discover which reefs are better able to withstand, recover from, or adapt to bleaching events and, therefore, have the best chance for long-term survival. Identifying these “resilient” reefs will tell us where to focus management efforts. Read a report summary to see what we discovered. Learn more about coral bleaching.

Connecting for Conservation

The KMLAC is a member of the Kai Kuleana and Hui Loko networks, which TNC helped establish and supports. The networks are comprised of community groups from West Hawaiʻi Island who share knowledge and resources and take collective action to accelerate conservation. Learn more about how networks amplify impacts by building on success at sites. 

Learn more about our sciencerestoration, and how we help strengthen conservation management and leadership so Hawaiʻi's reefs can support healthy fisheries and prosperous communities long into the future.