Kiana Frank – from Hawaii on the Big Breakfast Show:
Native Hawaiian Fishponds
For hundreds of years, Native Hawaiians had the means to sustainably support the sustenance of their people through productive aquaculture in fishponds (loko iʻa). Built at the interface of where mountain streams enter the ocean, these shallow ponds constituted a beneficial form of eutrophication that promoted the growth of marine algae and photosynthetic microbes such as microalgae, diatoms and green bacteria. Ancient Hawaiians actively manipulated the flow of nutrients from either fresh or ocean water by combining detailed phenomenological observation with prudent land management strategies. Moreover, the architectural design of the walls (kuapa) and sluice gates (makaha) of the loko iʻa allowed young tiny fish, like mullet (amaʻama and ʻanae), to enter into the loko iʻa but not escape – trapping them until maturity. As a result of grazing on algae cultivated within the loko iʻa, the immense populations of fish produced amounted to an efficient, dependable, and easily accessible protein source that supported nearby Hawaiian communities. Thus loko iʻa were of incredible cultural, religious and economic importance and symbolized the connections that Hawaiians formed between themselves, the land (ʻaina), the ocean (kai) and the gods (akua).
Estimates place the number of loko iʻa in the Hawaiian Islands at the turn of the last century at 488, yet only 14 remain in production – the result of the development and urbanization of coastal habitats in Hawaii. Today a grassroots movement to restore these historical and culturally significant loko iʻa provides a unique vehicle for bridging the fields of physical, social, and cultural science. Because the success of loko iʻa rests on the productivity of the algae and photosynthetic microbes, achieving an understanding how to precisely control nutrient flux into the loko iʻa is essential.
We extremely grateful to our collaborations and interactions with Paepae O Heʻeia, Kiholo Fishpond, Hale O Lono, Waihole Fishpond, Kapalaho Fishpond, Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo, Kamehameha Schools, Hui Mālama Loko iʻa, The Nature Conservancy, Hui Loko, Hui Aloha Kiholo, Ka Honua Momona