four people standing in front of ocean mural
From left, Cherie Kauahi, Steven Colbert, Kamala Anthony and Jason Adolf.

Research projects at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo are more than opportunities for students to do applied learning, they are also often geared toward helping communities and culture in Hawaiʻi flourish. A perfect example of this is a project run by Kamala Anthony and Cherie Kauahi, two UH Hilo graduate students, who have taken on loko iʻa (fishpond) research in Keaukaha, Hilo, with the help of two marine science faculty advisors, Steven Colbert and Jason Adolf.

The project is aimed at studying current conditions in several fishponds in Keaukaha in order to restore, sustain and manage them better in the face of climate change. The research team is collecting baseline data from the fishponds—never before collected—to study how future climate change will affect the groundwater flow into the ponds.

But the goals of the project go beyond the scientific and clinical objectives—ultimately the goal is to help the community and culture surrounding the loko iʻa. Members of the research team each have their own community connections to Keaukaha and a sense of obligation to help the loko iʻa and the local culture.

Aerial of Honokea fishpond at Richardson Ocean Park, Keaukaha.

Anthony and Kauahi are both graduate students in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science program (TCBES) at UH Hilo and have a deep, personal connection with this research project beyond the student level.

Anthony is originally from Waiuli in the Keaukaha area. She attended UH Hilo for her undergraduate degree in agriculture with a specialty in aquaculture and later moved on to the TCBES graduate program. She says she feels much like the fish who enter the fishpond where the research is being conducted—she says her motivation for doing this project is because she, too, “seeks nourishment, growth, support, function, skills and the potential to pass on these processes to the next generation for the protection of a resource that sustains the community.”

Kauahi was raised on Hawaiʻi Island. She completed her undergraduate studies at UH Hilo and earned a bachelor of arts in marine science. She says her overall goal of this current project is to provide the people who mālama (care for) these places added information to continue to perpetuate loko iʻa practices as well as to ultimately provide food for the people who depend on loko iʻa resources.

“I’m learning a lot about groundwater and how complex it is as well as learning different techniques on how to look at it and measure it,” Kauahi says. “Most importantly I’m learning about wai [water] not just in the context of science but in the context of a Hawaiian and recognizing that wai is life.”

Both graduate students are taking away more than just the technical skills with their work on this project—rather they are learning how to join their passion for community and culture in Hawaiʻi with the techniques and applicability of science.

“I’d like to see the scientific part be as meaningful as well as be interactive with the community and outreach steps,” says project advisor Adolf.

For more on the team and their research, read the full article at UH Hilo Stories.

—A UH Hilo Stories article written by Anne Rivera, a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor

This is the fourth story in a series of articles on climate research at UH Hilo.