Restoring the Bounty of Seaweed in Waimanalo

Jul 23, 2018

Volunteers weave a lei of limu or seaweed. Limu lei is one of the methods of restoring limu in Hawai'i's oceans.
Credit Waimanalo Limu Hui

About a hundred varieties of Hawaiian seaweed or limu exist. Limu played an important part in the ancient Hawaiian diet – third only to fish and poi as a staple of sustenance. Limu is still enjoyed today but has become increasingly difficult to find. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi reports.

Growing up, Luana Albinio remembers exactly what kinds of seaweed or limu graced the shorelines of her hometown of Waimanalo.

Luana Albinio poses in front of Pahonu, a rock wall enclosure near Kaiona Beach Park. Her group, the Waimanalo Limu Hui, is working to restore limu or seaweed at Pahonu.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“We had manauea. Manauea is a red limu that looks like a tree under the water. We had wawaeiole – the rat’s toe. We had ‘a’ala’ula in the front of where I live. We had limu lipoa,” says Albinio, “We had lots of limu kala. Where if you got one big cut. Like today, someone had to get stitches. You just get that limu kala, you pop the buggah and you put it on top and it coagulates the blood and stops it.”

Albinio’s family has been living in Waimanalo for six generations.

“When I was little, limu was all over waimanalo, so plentiful. And we could just go on the shoreline and pick it up,” says Albinio, “Today...ʻaʻohe – no more nothing.”

Volunteers with the Waimanalo Limu Hui gather to close a day of restoration activities at Kaiona Beach Park in Waimanalo.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Albinio is on a mission to restore that abundance. She’s part of a group called Waimanalo Limu Hui. The group hosted about 150 volunteers at Kaiona Beach Park in Waimanalo over the weekend to plant limu.  

Wally Ito explains the process of limu lei making.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“Many times I’m asked, ‘Oh how can you grow limu without the roots?’” says limu whisperer Wally Ito.

He works with coastal communities across the state to restore limu along Hawaiʻi shorelines.

“The limu actually absorbs directly through the cell wall,” says Ito, “So there’s no need to…it’ll still grow without what people consider the roots.”

Volunteers are weaving a type of limu Ito calls manauea loloa into a lei using raffia as a base.

A limu lei with manauea loloa.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“It’s taking a sprig of limu every couple of inches or so. And they come out, end up with a maybe like a three-foot length of lei,” says Ito, “And you can plant that separately or I’ve seen communities where they tie it all together end to end and they end up with a really long one. Tie it or put a rock on top of it, you need something to hold it down.”

Volunteers make limu lei at Kaiona Beach Park.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Ito learned this method of limu planting from his mentor Uncle Henry Chang Wo.

“You know Uncle Henry always said, ‘No limu, no fish.’ Which is true yeah?,” says Ito, “Limu is the base of the nearshore marine environment. So you can put all the fish back in the ocean but if they more nothing to eat, they’re not going to last very long.”

For Albinio, the undertaking is personal.

“We’ve been active since October planting. And hopefully in my lifetime, or in my children or grandchildren’s lifetime they will be able to see what I saw,” says Albinio.

For more information on limu planting or if you're interested in participating in a limu work day, check out the Waimanalo Limu Hui's Facebook page here