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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans

June 27, 2015

Moloka’i: A New Island to Explore

Joe Capellupo | Kelsey Orr, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry | Furman University

Aloha Aina

Survey of the the Keawanui Fishpond. Students pictured from fore to back are: Haines, Joe, Hoots, Tina, and Brenda (professor).

Noon Position
21°04.6’N x 157°02.0’W

Anchored at Kaunakakai Harbor, Moloka’i

Taffrail Log
400.5 nm

Weather / Wind / Seas
Dry Temp 29.5°C, Clouds ¼ Cumulus, winds ESE Beaufort Force – 4, seas SSE 2ft.

Marine Life Observed
Several sea turtles swimming around the harbor

Souls on Board

Today we awoke to the ship being anchored just outside of Kaunakaka’i Harbor on the island of Moloka’i. This was the last island on our itinerary we had yet to visit, which made our 0630 wakeup call slightly more tolerable. The prospect of spending an entire day on land after 7 straight days at sea also provided extra incentive to get the day started.

At 0800 we prepared the ship’s rescue boats to take us to shore and gathered our things for the day. Once on land, we were met by two shuttle vans whose radios were tuned to the delightful sound of island style music that I have grown to adore here in Hawai’i. After a relaxing ride along the coast of Moloka’i, we arrived at Keawanui Fish Pond where we were greeted by the fishpond’s caretakers: Ua and Hano. In accordance with traditional Hawaiian practices, we performed an oli (a chant one recites at a place to make themselves known, ask permission to enter the land, and receive the knowledge it has to offer) at the maka ha (gateway) of Keawanui.

Once inside, we were able to talk story with Ua and Hano, who happen to be best friends and have been working at the fishpond since they graduated High School nearly 20 years ago. They told us about the history of Keawanui and other fishponds on Moloka’i and how it is currently the only fully functioning fishpond in Hawai’i. Keawanui is over 800 years old and one of the main reasons for its continued success is Hano and Ua’s willingness to adapt and accept beneficial change. Hano stressed the importance of incorporating native Hawaiian wisdom with modern technology in order to achieve the ultimate goal of sustainability. This practice is the essence of the Aloha ‘Āina program; In order to protect the environment, we must find a balance between indigenous and scientific knowledge. For example when we visited Paepae o He’eia Fish Pond in O’ahu earlier in the program, we learned that they (along with nearly all others) stick to ancient Hawaiian practices and techniques when constructing and managing their fishpond. This includes eradicating mangrove trees that line the banks of the pond and using only traditional building materials. In comparison, Keawanui Fish Pond is comprised of mangrove trees to provide habitats for fish and produce oxygen, as well as sheet rock scattered throughout its walls (as opposed to strictly lava rock) because that is what is available and it is also what works best.

After we learned the ins and outs, we were divided into two groups to begin work on the fishpond. My group was tasked with wading out into one of the enclosed pens in the center of the fishpond in order to conduct a survey of what fish were present.  Earlier this year the Oceanic Institute provided Keawanui Fish Pond with funds to stock select pens with mullet fish, in hopes of collecting data on growth and reproductive rates. After towing the net across the pen a couple of times, we discovered what Hano had suspected all along; the mullet had escaped the pen and migrated toward a different section of the fishpond with more nutrients and fresh water. We did, however, manage to catch a few large crabs and some surgeon fish.

After our job was done we were treated to a swim at a small beach outside of the fishpond and a picnic style lunch. While lunch was wrapping up we were fortunate enough to talk story again with Hano and Ua, this time on a wider range of topics including the legend of Walter Ritte. Walter Ritte is Ua’s father, a native of Moloka’i, and longtime activist who is somewhat of a celebrity on the island. Walter was one of the Kaho’olawe Eight: a group of eight men from Hawai’i that occupied the island of Kaho’olawe in the 1970’s to protest the United States Military bomb testing on the island, risking their lives on a daily basis to protect that which is sacred to them. Hano made it clear that Walter’s never-ending fight to protect the ‘āina (land, that which sustains/feeds us) was a mission he also shared along with his friend Ua; both who claimed that they felt tremors from the bombings while inside their mother’s wombs. Hano even recited an original piece of slam poetry which was both impressive and inspiring.  The knowledge that these two men shared with us was priceless and I really appreciated their sincerity and willingness to welcome us and teach us about their way of life.

We were told that Moloka’i has a history of being a spiritual and magical island, home to strong and powerful individuals throughout its history. After spending the day on the island, I could feel that this was undoubtedly true and I am certain that I will make my way back there in the future.


Aloha friends and family!
We have had a busy day anchored in Kaunakakai Habor in Moloka’i. Around 0900 we took the small boats to the dock and from there we took a couple vans to Keawanui Fish Pond. Walter Ritte’s son, Ua, and another fish pond expert, Hano, provided us with information about the 800 year old fish pond they manage. Keawanui is surprisingly different than the He’eia Fish Pond in O’ahu we toured a few weeks ago because Ua and Hano decided to combine native intelligence and technology to rebuild the fishpond unlike the managers of He’eia, who stick to completely traditional practices. One of the main differences between the two fish ponds is Keawanui’s use of the mangrove trees to provide a habitat for juvenile fish and produce a large amount of oxygen. He’eia chooses to remove all of the mangrove trees opposed to taming them because mangroves are an invasive species to Hawaii and also because they believe the mangrove trees can kill the fish by lowering the pH of the water.

With many of our field trips, there is a service project component and today was no exception. My group helped Hano catch and count the mullet fish in the fish pens and tend to the oysters that they have recently started harvesting on the North Western side of the pond. The fish pens within the pond were funded by Hawaii University as a project to determine the growth and reproductive rates of mullet fish in the pond. Each pen began with 8,000 mullet fish back in March, but today we only counted 8-10 fish (and a whole bunch of crabs). Hano believes that the fish escaped the pens and migrated towards the shore, which is nutrient rich and more diluted by freshwater from the stream that feeds into the pond.

To top off the day, we went to a beach and took in the consistently beautiful environment of Hawaii before heading back to the ship. It was a wonderful day and I am excited to be sailing around Moloka’i tonight and tomorrow. So far one thing I have gleamed from visiting 5 of the Hawaiian Islands is that each has its own indescribable, unique cultural style.

- Kelsey




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