Contributed by Leah Shizuru
As I stood near the puka and gazed at the raw beauty of the steady flow of incoming ocean water spilling into the fishpond I listened to and appreciated the unmistakable sound of rushing water. What a thrilling experience for both the eyes and ears.
It was hard to fathom that the 80 ft gap directly in front of me would soon be closed. I pondered how the volunteers would ever complete this task when the water appeared to ebb and flow with such impressive speed. Though difficult to imagine, I was told that the enthusiastic bunch of men and women that worked daily on closing the puka, or gap, were making great progress with the help of a campaign to fund this labor-intensive project and raise awareness of the need to close the break in the wall in He’eia fishpond – Pani ka Puka.
Bridging the gap would be a crucial step toward restoring this fishpond to its original state and enabling traditional aquaculture to ensue again. Ultimately, caretakers of He‘eia Fishpond would once again be able to raise enough herbivorous fish such as mullet (‘ama‘ama) and milkfish (‘awa) to provide for the community. Sustainability. Preservation. Tradition.
Bridging the gap
Benefits of traditional fishponds extend to research and education. That is how I became involved with He‘eia Fishpond. Last summer I had the opportunity to intern at C-MORE (Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education), a NSF Science and Technology Center, to work on a research project with Dr. Rosie Alegado looking at the microbial diversity in this coastal ecosystem. As part of my research, I ventured to the fishpond once a week with my two lab mates in order to gather water samples. These water samples were then taken back to the lab, filtered, and subjected to extraction of genomic DNA.
During these visits we got to know the Paepae o He’eia stewards (kia’i loko), learn about the history surrounding the fishpond and see the progress of the various other restoration
projects including the removal of mangrove from along the ancient fishpond wall and invasive limu (algae) from in and around the pond. Our research aimed to complement these restoration efforts. Through a better understanding of the genetic makeup of microbes such as photosynthetic bacteria and microalgae that form the base of the food chain in the fishpond, better management policies could be implemented.
Our weekly visits to the fishpond also enabled us to see, first hand, the outreach efforts of the fishpond stewards. One evening during a 26-hour diurnal experiment in which we worked with Dr. Kiana Frank (who was analyzing microbial communities at different depths within the sediment as well as their sources of respiration and respiration rates), we interacted with a few children who were on the property.
During the process of water filtration and processing of sediment cores we were surrounded by a group of inquisitive and eager children who wanted to help. Ka‘ena, who was 5 years old, asked, “What are you doing?” as he looked at the filtration apparatus, bewildered. My co-workers and I told him that we were filtering water that we had just collected in order to study the microbes in the fishpond. Ka‘ena looked puzzled and we could see from the confused, yet still-interested look on his face that we needed to add to our answer and perhaps simplify it. I quickly began to think of a way to re-explain this so that he could understand it. Thankfully, my labmate, Mikela, interjected, “Oh, ok! So you know when you’re finished cooking spaghetti noodles and you have to drain out the water?” Ka‘ena nodded. “How do you get rid of the water that you cook your pasta in,” Mikela asked. He described a strainer and Mikela replied in an encouraging tone, “Yes, exactly, a strainer. So what this is [as she pointed to the filtration apparatus with the filter membrane] is like the strainer and the microbes are like the spaghetti noodles that we want to keep.” What a perfect analogy to give to this young child! Ka‘ena beamed at Mikela and responded, “Oh, I see!” We followed Mikela’s lead and continued to answer the other children’s questions in a simplistic, analogous manner. What a treat it was to be able to answer their thought-provoking questions.
It was in that moment that I realized how this summer had come full circle: I was working for an organization that, in its very title, seeks to educate. I gleaned from the knowledge of Dr. Alegado and Dr. Frank and in turn was able to pass on that knowledge to these young kids. Not only had I learned more science this summer, but I had formed a deeper appreciation for my culture, for the faithful caretakers at He‘eia fishpond, and for the brilliant scientists (like those at C-MORE) who seek to better understand the environment in which we live. I saw the value of perpetuating knowledge from one generation to the next.
It was then that I understood the necessity of bridging the gap.
Hawaiian fishponds, also known as loko i‘a, were traditional forms of aquaculture that served as a dependable protein source for ancient Hawaiians. The oldest fishpond in Hawai‘i was built about 1200 years ago. By the 1900s there were only 99 of the 360 built in the islands that were operable.
Leah Shizuru attends the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and will earn a B.S. in Microbiology Spring 2017. As a part-time lifeguard with Ocean Safety, she enjoys spending her free-time outside with her friends and family— surfing, hiking, swimming, paddling, and bodyboarding are just a few of her favorite hobbies.
Leah would like to thank Yoshimi Rii, Hi’ilei Kawelo, Keli’i Kotubetey, and Dr. Rosie Alegado for their oversight and feedback on this blog post and would also like to thank Dr. Alegado for the opportunity she has to work in her lab.