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

Places We Protect

Ka'ūpūlehu

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, two decades of research beginning in the early 1990s show coral cover declined by more than 50% and the abundance of highly prized food fish declined by up to 75%, reinforcing the observations of kūpuna (elders) and other longtime residents.

BLENDING TRADITIONAL PRACTICES with THE LATEST SCIENCE

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 more than 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 to help ensure the KMLAC’s management combined the best available science with traditional and customary practices.

TNC and NOAA develop web-based planning tool for future sea level rise in West Hawaiʻi.
Hawai‘i Island TNC and NOAA develop web-based planning tool for future sea level rise in West Hawaiʻi. © John De Mello

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

In 2016 with widespread community support, the State established 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.

Two years after the Ka'ūpūlehu Marine Reserve was established, TNC surveys showed some food fish increased by more than 60% inside the rest area and only 3% outside of the rest area, and community surveys showed the rest area had twice as many 'opihi as outside areas. We are now working with government and community partners to develop a sustainable fisheries management plan to guide harvest after the rest period.

School of 'opelu, Hawai'i Island
Opelu School of 'opelu, Hawai'i Island © Chad Wiggins / TNC

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 learn about coral bleaching and find out what we discovered.

Connecting for Conservation

The KMLAC is a member of the Kai Kuleana and Hui Loko networks, which TNC helped establish and coordinates. These peer learning networks are comprised of community groups across Hawaiʻi Island who share knowledge and resources and take collective action to accelerate conservation. Find out how networks amplify impacts by building on success at sites. 

Learn more about our science and 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.