"fishing and eating fish are integral to our island way of life."
By Kim Hum
Each day as I drive to work along O‘ahu’s Windward Coast, I see positive changes taking place in Kāne‘ohe Bay. The invasive algae that once smothered its coral reefs are gone, the historic 88-acre He‘eia fishpond has been transformed and the He‘eia estuary is being restored, with seven acres of invasive mangrove being cleared this year so that fresh water can once again flow from the mountains to the sea.
What’s happening in Kāne‘ohe is not an anomaly. Similar efforts are taking place across the state, spearheaded by highly motivated coastal communities. Working in partnership with State government, local communities are taking the lead in managing threats to our coral reefs and restoring abundance to our nearshore fisheries.
Coastal communities know how important the ocean is to our culture, economy and island way of life. They witness the problems first-hand—the unstainable fishing practices, the trash washing up on beaches, the brown water that follows major storms and the coral bleaching brought on by a warming climate. Science confirms what they already know: our ocean is in trouble. One recent study estimated that nearshore fisheries have declined by as much as 90% in some places.
Still, there’s hope. A study just published by the University of Hawai‘i, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Geographic and Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions predicts that, if effectively managed, fish stocks could increase 500% in some areas on O‘ahu, with similar recovery potential on other islands.
A Winning Formula
The State of Hawai‘i, which has committed to effectively manage 30% of our nearshore waters by 2030, needs community support to realize this ambitious goal. Place-based co-management between communities and the State is crucial, and is best achieved through a collaborative process based on science, local knowledge and traditional practices. Together with enhanced compliance and enforcement of rules, co-management is a winning formula.
Recognizing this potential, in 2015 the State approved the first community-based subsistence fishing area at Hā‘ena, Kauaʻi, and in 2016 a community-driven 10-year marine rest area at Kaʻūpūlehu on Hawaiʻi island. On Moloka‘i, local community groups are now requesting a community-based subsistence fishing area at Mo‘omomi on the island’s northwest coast. Their proposal, which is based on traditional management practices, has been 25 years in the making.
More than 30 communities across the state are now involved in natural resource management and learning networks. These groups have taken up the call of the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage to care for our oceans. They are restoring fishponds, managing coral reefs, monitoring fish populations, conducting beach cleanups, testing ocean water quality and establishing voluntary rest areas for declining ‘opihi populations. The Nature Conservancy and other local NGOs support these community-driven efforts with technical support, scientific information and training.
On World Oceans Day and throughout the 2018 International Year of the Reef, we celebrate these communities and the ocean that we all rely on for coastal protection, recreation, cultural and spiritual renewal, and local food security.
Enjoying the ocean, fishing and eating fish are integral to our island way of life. To sustain these gifts, we need to support those communities working to protect our oceans. By working together we can achieve the shared goal of a healthy ocean for all of Hawai‘i.
Kim Hum is director of marine conservation for The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. This op-ed was originally published in the June 5, 2018 Honolulu Star-Advertiser.