Traditional Hawaiian fishponds (loko i’a) have a long and important history in Hawaiian culture, and are currently the focus of intense restoration activities that serves at least two important purposes: food production and cultural revival. Fishponds are built around coastal groundwater springs and designed to generate brackish water conditions between the coast and fishpond wall. As such, they are dynamic systems dependent on the balance between fresh groundwater inputs from land and encroaching seawater, which vary with rainfall, tides, and storms. Since fishponds are engineered estuaries, they are representative of estuarine conditions generated by fresh groundwater inputs throughout Hawai’i. Climate change has the potential to significantly alter these estuarine systems through changes in rainfall and coastal inundation by sea level rise that change the input of nutrients and shift salinity gradients, altering habitats and primary production. To maximize the productivity of fishponds today and plan for the future, fishpond managers need methodologies to quantify ecological variability and information on how climate change may alter their ponds.
This study will assess climate change impacts on traditional Hawaiian fishponds by defining the impacts of fresh groundwater and sea water variability on the physical, chemical and biological properties of the systems. The aim of this project is to develop tools and strategies for managing fishponds that includes the potential impact of climate change. This project will use 3 fishponds with unique characteristics (size, magnitude of freshwater input, connectivity to the ocean) as a case study to establish quantifiable relationships between a) groundwater inputs and environmental factors (rainfall, tides, moon phase) and b) benthic algal growth along a salinity gradient. These relationships will then be used to develop models that examine the response of benthic primary production to future predictions of changes in rainfall and sea level. The socioecology of these sites will be assessed based on interviews of people with experience-based knowledge of the fishponds and groundwater springs of Keaukaha. Collaboration between traditional fishpond and Hawaiian cultural practitioners, coastal resource managers, and University of Hawaii at Hilo scientists (geological, biological and social) will ensure a broad, balanced view of fish pond functioning and community engagement.
wai- nvs. water
pūnāwai- n. water spring
waiwai- nvs. goods, property, assets, valuables, value, worth, wealth, importance, benefit.
kiaʻi- guardian, caretakers, manager