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two people looking at bleached coral
Breakout sessions furthered discussions including coral bleaching dynamics. Credit: KUA

With the goal of preserving loko iʻa or Hawaiian fishponds, 15 University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty and students and more than 30 representatives from 18 traditional Hawaiian fishponds across four Hawaiian islands gathered together to share resources. The three-day workshop blended cultural and environmental resilience with contemporary technology.

Loko iʻa or Hawaiian fishponds, are unique aquaculture systems that exist throughout Hawaiʻi, and continue to feed and connect communities around the islands. Among the 488 loko iʻa identified in a statewide survey, many are in degraded condition, sometimes completely beyond repair or unrecognizable as fishponds.

For the sites that are partially intact, communities and stewardship groups are actively restoring or have expressed interest in reviving the integrity and productivity of these places. Since 2004, kiaʻi loko, fishpond guardians and caretakers, have met as a statewide network known as Hui Mālama Loko iʻa with a purpose of sharing expertise and resources to amplify their collective work in reactivating loko iʻa throughout Hawaiʻi. The network is currently facilitated by local non-profit Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA).

Developing low-cost monitoring approaches

Technological advancements have exploded in the past five years, and the costs of emerging sensors and instruments have drastically decreased. Most of these advancements have not yet been applied to environmental sciences or oceanography. Brian Glazer, associate professor of oceanography at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), and his lab group and collaborators are developing new technologies and methods at the confluence of a growing interest in low-cost do-it-yourself electronics and the widespread acknowledgement that aquatic systems are woefully undersampled.

Over the past several years, and with funding from various sources, Glazer and team have developed low-cost wireless sensor packages that measure meteorological data, tides, water temperature, light, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, chlorophyll and turbidity—several parameters of interest that can inform the restoration and maintenance of fishponds across the state. Glazer sees this effort as a step in democratizing access to oceanographic sensor technology.

In addition to building their own tide gauges, participants visited Heʻeia Fishpond to talk with local kiaʻi loko about traditional measures of fishpond health and to see the new technology in action. The goals of the workshop, organized by Glazer and Loko Iʻa Coordinator at KUA Brenda Asuncion, included: information exchange to blend local and traditional coastal knowledge about loko iʻa with contemporary sensor technologies and oceanographic research; review lessons learned, understand fishpond restoration challenges, explore environmental sensor needs and knowledge gaps; and chart a course for developing future collaborations and success stories.

“This workshop is one important milestone in a very promising timeline of partnership between UH oceanography and local coastal communities,” said Glazer.

People assembling tide gauges
Participants assembled custom low-cost tide gauges to take home to loko iʻa. Credit: KUA

Funding for workshop and sensors

In addition to funding basic research, the National Science Foundation (NSF) supports capacity-building, community-building and direction-setting for Public Participation in Science Technology Engineering and Math Research (PPSR). In PPSR, members of the public partner with scientists and engineers to solve complex problems through participating in the formulation of questions and experiments; collection and analysis of data; and interpretation, use and publication of results.

A $300,000 award from NSF Ocean Sciences pioneered much of the lower-cost sensor network technology deployed at Heʻeia Fishpond between 2015 and 2017. A $50,000 award from the NSF Geoscience Directorate funded this workshop, and a new $670,000 award from NSF Ocean Sciences will fund continued sensor development in coastal Hawaiʻi for 2017–2020. The Schmidt Family Foundation has funded an additional $150,000 for related nearshore oceanographic sensor work in 2017–2018. Independently, NOAA has designated the 1,385-acre Heʻeia National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System is developing new wave runup forecast tools for West Maui among other monitoring programs.

Additional partnership

A partnership between the following groups helped facilitate this workshop: National Science Foundation, KUA, Kamehameha Schools, Paepae o Heʻeia, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners and University of Hawaiʻi STEM Pre-Academy.

—By Marcie Grabowski

Participants from UH Mānoa and fishpond restoration groups gathered for the workshop. Credit: KUA
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