Paepae o He`eia - keepers of an ancient fishpond

In this blog post, we’re highlighting one of our newer community partners: Paepae o He`eia. We love the work that they do and are honored to support them!

Just outside of Kane`ohe on the Windward coast of O`ahu, after you turn onto a residential street and go down a very steep driveway, you encounter something that is far older than the 20th century homes that surround it. It’s the He`eia fishpond, built 800 years ago as a means to feed the community that lived within that ahupua`a (mountain-to-sea land division).     

The dry stone wall encircles 88 acres of coastal water. 

The dry stone wall encircles 88 acres of coastal water. 

About the fishpond system

In this walled off section of Kane`ohe Bay, ancient Hawaiians practiced their own form of aquaculture. Here’s how it worked: a tightly packed stone wall encircled a section of brackish water along the coastline. The water was the ideal environment for native limu (seaweed) to flourish; fish were enticed to enter the fishpond and feed on the seaweed. The stone wall featured five mākāhā, or sluice gates, constructed out of wood poles lashed together with rope. Small fish could slip through the gates, feed on the limu, and grow large enough to be trapped inside by the gates. This allowed the fishpond to host species such as ‘ama’ama, awa, pualu, palani, aholehole, moi, kokala, kākū, and papio.  

Makaha (sluice gate) used to help keep larger fish inside the pond.

Makaha (sluice gate) used to help keep larger fish inside the pond.

What is Paepae o He`eia

After its construction centuries ago, the fishpond was well maintained and used by the community. However, in 1965 a flood destroyed part of the wall, opening the door for invasive mangrove trees to embed roots in the wall and push the dry stone construction apart. In the years that followed, the 88-acre fishpond fell out of use and deteriorated.

Paepae o He`eia was established in 2001 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the neglected fishpond and perpetuating the practices, knowledge, and culture that are tied to this special place.

The journey of restoration

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It has been a long journey to return He`eia fishpond to operational status, and it’s not over yet! After nearly two decades of restoration, Paepae expects that it will take about five more years to complete the project, and they can’t do it alone. The nonprofit hosts 6,000-8,000 students each year at educational workdays, as well as another 3,000-4,000 community members who attend the 14 public workdays held throughout the year. Workdays are indeed hard work - volunteers may find themselves hauling coral and pulling mangrove branches along the 1.3 mile boundary of the pond - but they are incredibly fun and rewarding. There’s no better way to learn about the fishpond than to lend a hand in restoring it.  

How Hawaiian Ola is helping

Staying hydrated and nourished is key when working at the fishpond! That’s why Hawaiian Ola is providing Paepae o He`eia with organic sparkling noni and coffee leaf tea for each of their public workdays and talk story events in 2018.

More information about Paepae o He`eia, including a calendar of upcoming workdays, is available on their website.

Organic Kona coffee leaf teas waiting for workday participants!

Organic Kona coffee leaf teas waiting for workday participants!