Working To Protect Our Coastlines

A community workday at Loko ‘Ea Fishpond Habitat Restoration Project in Haleiwa. Photo courtesy Kimi Apiki

The start of a new year often brings hope and promise for the future. James Estores gets excited when he thinks about what 2013 will have to offer, but the co-founder and director of the Loko ‘Ea Fishpond Habitat Restoration Project in Haleiwa also is a realist.

Like other Hawaii projects that are partially funded by federal dollars, Estores knows budget cuts could present challenges for his group in 2013. But he is confident the efforts to restore the cultural, biological and socioeconomic prosperity of the Loko ‘Ea Fishpond will continue without any interruptions.

“It’s a concern for all community organizations, particularly nonprofits that rely on federal funds, because we know there will be less to go around,” says Estores. “We’re going to put one foot in front of another and let the pieces fall. We’re not going to assume the cup is half empty – we see it as the cup is half full, and it’s up to us to continue to fill it.”

Estores says about 50 people volunteer their time every month during “community workdays.” The ancient fishpond, which sits behind Jameson’s By the Sea restaurant, is used as an educational facility for hundreds of students.

“There are many possibilities for education here, including engineering, science, mathematics, marine biology and conservation,” says Estores. “We’re teaching students to malama the aina. Our generation must malama this place so others have something to enjoy when we leave this life. We need to do as much as we can like our kupuna did for us.”

Estores hopes the historic site can one day produce fish for the community as it did many years ago. The fishpond is home to several different species, including ama’ama (mullet), awa, a’awa, moi, o’opu, pualu, manini, to’au, tilapia and even Samoan crabs. It also is home to predators such as papio, ulula, kaku and barracuda, ranging from a few inches to several feet in length.

“The entire food chain is here,” Estores says proudly. “We are humble servants, and we’re going to leave this place better than what we found it.”

The Loko ‘Ea Fishpond Habitat Restoration Project is one of dozens of grassroots community organizations that are working to protect and restore coastal areas. Scientists say these habitats support an estimated 25 percent of Hawaii’s reef fish, 32 percent of marine invertebrates and 90 percent of stream animals that are found nowhere else on this planet.

For the past three years, projects like the one at Loko ‘Ea Fishpond have been funded by a partnership among Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Harold K.L. Castle Foundation. The partnership has provided more than $2 million in funding for community projects. Alu Like Inc. serves as the fiscal sponsor of the project.

“In Hawaii, clean water and healthy lands are fundamental to our quality of life,” says Josh Stanbro, director of environment and sustainability at HFC. “We commend these community groups for taking responsibility in their own backyards and putting in countless hours to protect our most treasured sites.”

For 96 years, HCF has been a leader in philanthropy. The foundation recently awarded $437,000 in grants to nine projects aimed at the protection and restoration of Hawaii’s coastal areas. Because of budget cuts, HCF now is seeking funding from private donors and foundations to keep successful grant programs like the Loko ‘Ea Fishpond Habitat Restoration Project going in 2013 and beyond.

“We’re grateful for our partners and to Kamehameha Schools for having the vision as the property owner to listen to the community,” says Estores. “It’s our kuleana to breathe life into our culture. There are pockets of great work taking place around Hawaii. We wanted a place where we could give back and a place to reconnect. Loko ‘Ea is that place.”