Aloha Aina Workforce: Malama Huleia

Malama Huleia is an area that holds cultural sentiments, archaeological concerns, ecological vitality, and potential food raising resources. Located on the Huleia river, which extends westward from Nawiliwili Harbor, the Alakoko Fishpond has seen 50-60 years of inattention and had fallen into disrepair. Additionally, the process of building the infrastructure of Nawiliwili Harbor has created stress on the fishpond with massive sediment buildup.

The Aloha Aina Workforce Program provided four workers for Malama Huleia’s efforts thanks to CARES Act funding from the County of Kauai.

“I applied to the program because I was out of work and the Huleia project seemed like a good fit for me. I am learning a lot about the valley, aquaculture and conservation work.  Based on what I am learning, I imagine that whatever direction my career path leads, I hope that I can support the restoration of Alakoko fishpond.”

Jason, a dislocated worker now working at Malama Huleia
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Underneath this pathway is an intact several centuries old rock wall built to contain the Alakoko Fishpond. On either side is silt and sediment buildup. Behind this view is Nawiliwili Harbor. This view was once entirely covered with a tangled mangrove forest.

Malama Huleia’s mission is to restore the fish pond’s infrastructure to a manageable level and to sustain it into the future. Since their founding, they have rallied volunteer groups and individuals to restore the area and uncover past marvels. Since Covid came upon us, all of that had stopped. Without constant support, progress on the project will not only halt, but head in a backwards direction, back to its past of mangrove cover, overtake of invasives and unhindered sediment buildup. 

Progress in the past has included decimating a mangrove forest to reveal the 600 year old wall beneath, and uncovering hidden holding ponds, among other things. The task of the workers is first to pull invasive species along the wall and coastline, pile it up, and burn it, thus prepping the land. Then in the void, they will plant native plants that are being raised in a nursery on site, for an approximate 14 acres of native species planting. Workers and management are guided by old photographs of the former operating fish pond, and stories of old-timers who fished there in their youth. 

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Sediment buildup at Malama Huleia. Part of the vision is for this area to be working fishpond and planted with native species.

“I applied for the Aloha Aina program because I truly believe if we take care of the earth, the earth will take care of us.  Food independence is so crucial to isolated places such as Hawaii, and what better way to take care of the planet and help provide sustenance while maintaining cultural practices than helping to restore a fish pond.

I’ve learned a ton from just the first two weeks.  I’m learning to identify different native birds, plants, and fish as well as the importance fish ponds provided in not only producing food but also habitat for native species and culturally significant practices. Peleke (supervisor) encourages us to take note of observations from tide, moon, plant life, animal habits in journals and it has lead me to be more present and observant in my everyday life.”  

Hunter, a dislocated worker sited at Malama Huleia
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“As a kanaka I felt it would be an amazing way to learn more about and to even give back to this piece of history that  was once utilized by more than just Hawaiians, plus more importantly it still exists. Although it’s heavy conservation hana, it feels good to do it because of the incredible resource it was and that it could/can be for everyone (animals as well)!

Everyday is definitely a full day of learning. From history, safety, and expectations for us on the job all the way to the finer points of the area like tides, flora and fauna, uses or the reason these things are important, how to properly and efficiently work within the pond to even some spiritual and ʻike Hawaiʻi lessons.”

Niho, a dislocated worker placed at Malama Huleia

It is the hope of Malama Huleia that the Alakoko Fishpond will be restored to an ecosystem that will provide home to native plants and birds and will be inviting for fish to enter and be once more a thriving area for local families to find recreation, cultural history, and nourishment. 

To learn more about Malama Huleia, visit their website: www.malamahuleia.org, or find them on Instagram: @malama_huleia.

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