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The future of a 600-year-old Hawaiian fishpond is in the hands of a Kauaʻi community

Alakoko Fishpond May 2020 Mālama Hulēʻia
Mālama Hulēʻia
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Alakoko Fishpond (also known as Menehune Fishpond), a 102-acre site of cultural and environmental significance near Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i.

A Kauaʻi nonprofit is the proud new owner of the island’s largest remaining Hawaiian fishpond known as Alakoko Fishpond.

The group Mālama Hulēʻia has spent the last four years restoring the property but ran into trouble earlier this year when the landowner put the fishpond up for sale. The 600-year-old fishpond was at risk of development — on the market for $3 million.

Alakoko volunteers 1 - credit Mālama Hulē‘ia.jpg
Mālama Hulē‘ia
A volunteer cleanup at Alakoko Fishpond.

Sara Bowen, head of Mālama Hulēʻia, says the group had been working tirelessly to restore the bounty of the 102-acre ancient Hawaiian fishpond.

"We did have a 20-year lease agreement on the property, but we knew that that could be revoked really at any time. So doing this restoration work was always a little bit risky. And when the property came up for sale, you know, it was scary," Bowen said.

At that point, the group had hosted thousands of volunteers at community workdays and school field trips to clear 26 acres of invasive mangrove and replant native vegetation.

But to preserve their efforts, they sought the help of Reyna Ramolete Hayashi with The Trust for Public Land.

"We are a nonprofit land conservation organization and our role in the acquisition was negotiating with the landowner," Hayashi said. "We do both public and private fundraising. We do all the due diligence, all of the stuff that you need to do real estate conservation."

Hayashi says most of the trust’s land deals are not very public.

In this case, the community’s vocal support of Mālama Hulēʻia’s efforts created a sense of public urgency, and ultimately helped secure a private donation from the Chan Zuckerberg Kauaʻi Community Fund of the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation.

"Once it went on the open market, everyone in the community was ready to get to work like, what do we need to do? Like we got to save this place," Hayashi told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

The deal closed last week and Mālama Hulēʻia is now the proud owner of Alakoko Fishpond.

The next step will be developing a community-based strategic plan for the future of the fishpond.

Alakoko fishpond map showing wall and wildlife refuge
The Trust for Public Land
A map of Alakoko Fishpond and the nearby Hulēʻia National Wildlife Refuge on Kauaʻi.

"While we did secure the funds for the acquisition of the fishpond, we have huge kuleana to carry the work forward. And so we're also launching a grassroots fundraising campaign to help with future projects at the fishpond," Bowen said.

Bowen says the top priority is repairing the 2,700 foot-long fishpond wall with the ultimate goal of having Alakoko Fishpond once again be a source of healthy, local food for the community.

Hayashi believes the positive impacts of this stewardship effort go beyond just food.

"We talk every day about problems with climate change, food security, sustainability," Hayashi said. "All of these practices that are very old, like fishpond practitioners have a lot to teach us about how we can live in a different way. I think that the solutions are here. There is so much genius, so much technology in these systems."

"If we can bring them back to life, they’re the model. They’re where we should be headed," she added.

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