Heʻeia Rising

"It's An Innovative Plan That's Well suited for the Community It's Serving." 

Kanekoa Schultz 
Nature Conservancy marine coordinator 

Earlier this year, windward O‘ahu’s He‘eia ahupua‘a was named a National Estuarine Research Reserve, or NERR, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is one of only 29 designated estuaries in the U.S., and the only one in the Pacific region.

Estuarine reserves traditionally protect important areas where rivers meet the sea, but He‘eia encompasses an entire ahupua‘a extending from the Ko‘olau Mountains to Kāne‘ohe Bay. The 1,384-acre area includes He‘eia State Park, He‘eia fishpond, He‘eia wetlands and stream, Moku o Lo‘e (Coconut Island) and patch and fringing reefs within Kāne‘ohe Bay. NOAA will manage the new reserve in partnership with the State of Hawai‘i through the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology.

For the Conservancy, the He‘eia designation is an important development. For a decade now, we have worked with the State to remove invasive algae from Kāne‘ohe Bay, and with the community non-profit Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi to restore He‘eia’s wetland taro system and reduce sediment flowing onto the reef.

With the new NERR, these and other community projects, including restoration of He‘eia fishpond, will benefit from coordinated management and increased funding for research, education, stewardship and infrastructure.   

An Innovative Plan

Conservancy Marine Coordinator Kanekoa Kukea Shultz, who also serves as Executive Director for Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi, says the defining feature of the He‘eia management plan is that it integrates traditional ahupua‘a practices with contemporary scientific research and knowledge. “It’s an innovative plan that’s well suited for the Hawaiian community it‘s serving,” he says.

As the only NERR in the Pacific, He‘eia can contribute to a better understanding of island estuaries and coral reef ecosystems throughout the region. The need for knowledge is urgent, given that many island communities around the world—and especially those in the Pacific—are already feeling the impacts of climate change, as rising sea levels inundate coastal villages and increasing temperatures lead to coral bleaching and degraded fishing grounds. 



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