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These community leaders are advancing limu education and restoration efforts

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Jayna Omaye
/
HPR
Wally Ito and Malia Heimuli are leading a statewide limu education and restoration effort. They often walk along the shoreline at Oneʻula Beach in ʻEwa to collect and observe limu.

Wally Ito often tells a story about his earlier encounters with limu, or seaweed. When he fished at Oneʻula Beach in ʻEwa in the mid-1980s, he would throw his line out and limu would get stuck to it.

He recalled how “humbug” it was to pull in the line, clear the limu and then throw it back out. But about 10 years later, the limu started to disappear. And then the fish disappeared, too.

“I learned a long time ago that limu is the base of the marine food chain,” said Ito, a marine biologist and lifelong fisherman. “And if you want fish, you got to work from the bottom up. That’s part of the awareness that we’re trying to create – the importance of limu to not only the Hawaiian culture but to the marine environment.”

Ito has now worked for more than a decade in limu education and restoration. He is part of a growing effort to help educate the community about its importance.

Known as Uncle Wally, Ito and other community leaders spearheaded the push to recognize limu statewide, leading Gov. David Ige to sign a proclamation in January designating 2022 as year of the limu.

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Jayna Omaye
/
HPR
Wally Ito and Malia Heimuli

Ito and Malia Heimuli, Limu Hui coordinator for the nonprofit Kuaʻāina Ula ʻAuamo, are leading statewide limu efforts. Since January, they have hosted about 12 community workdays and events on Oʻahu and Lānaʻi, reaching about 500 people of all ages.

“It’s been a great experience to get … people out and have them talk about their experiences with limu when they were kids, and then seeing how they want to continue those traditions on with their children…,” Heimuli said. “It's been great to hear those stories and to hear how they want to continue those practices.”

In 2014, the Limu Hui was founded as part of Kuaʻāina Ula ʻAuamo. Ito served as the leader of the statewide network until Heimuli took over the reins recently. Ito pointed to the work of kūpuna who came before him, including the late Henry Chang Wo, as the leaders of the movement.

To build on that legacy, Heimuli said they work with community members to remove invasive limu, build cages to help grow more native limu and hold talk story sessions. She and Ito often walk along the shoreline at Oneʻula Beach to collect limu for these show-and-tell presentations.

They estimate that there are about 500 native limu species in the islands.

Heimuli said she enjoys educating community members about how common limu is – it’s in everything from spam musubi to ice cream.

“It's this whole new perspective for people to know that they interact with limu every day in some way, whether it's in their environment or it's in the things they consume or use,” she said. “It's just amazing to see them be curious and then to discover things.”

Over the next six months, Ito and Heimuli said they hope to plan more events on Hawaiʻi island, Kauaʻi and Molokaʻi.

In August, they’ll be at the Hāna Limu Festival. And in September, Ito will attend an international conference on Indigenous aquaculture in Canada. They are also working on reprinting the popular cookbook, “The Limu Eater” by Heather Fortner, to be released in October.

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Jayna Omaye
/
HPR
Wally Ito and Malia Heimuli on one of their "limu walks" at Oneʻula Beach in ʻEwa.

They also plan to introduce a bill next year that would create a state limu. Ito said they’re proposing limu kala, which is eaten, as well as used for medicine and in hoʻoponopono, or conflict resolution.

In addition to year of the limu events, Ito said they also support ongoing restoration efforts throughout the state. That includes growing more limu on Molokaʻi and at Heʻeia Fishpond, removing invasive limu with Malama Maunalua, and partnering with other groups in Waimānalo, Kauaʻi and Lanaʻi.

Ito said he misses seeing limu cover the shoreline and reefs. But he hopes their efforts are making a difference.

“Meeting all these kinds of people – taro farmers, forest restoration people, all of the different cultural practitioners – I got to meet all of these great people because of limu,” he said. “But the sad thing is that we're all getting older. And a lot of these people that I so admire and respect, they're passing on. I think it's important that we continue to capture the knowledge so that we can pass on what they learn.”

For more information on upcoming events, click here.

Jayna Omaye is the culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at jomaye@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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