While the North Shore of Oʻahu is best known today for its world-class waves, the region has a long history of productive agriculture which should be equally recognized. For centuries, Kānaka Maoli (native Hawaiians) developed and refined ingenious systems to efficiently provide for human needs while conserving natural resources and protecting native plants and animals. These efficient systems required less effort to maintain than their predecessors, and thus allowed more time to be spent on creative and leisure pursuits, which may be part of the reason why heʻe nalu (surfing) was invented and so widely practiced across Hawaiʻi. Given the environmental issues we face today here in Hawaiʻi, and across the globe, there is much we can learn from these traditions.
In anticipation of the Billabong Pro Pipeline, North Shore Community Land Trust hosted WSL athletes and partners at our Waialeʻe Lako Pono restoration project, an effort to restore some of these systems at Waialeʻe, just two miles north of Pūpūkea (the traditional name of the beach spanning from ʻEhukai Beach Park to Ke Iki). Since 2020, North Shore Community Land Trust has led the restoration of a 30-acres coastal wetland site at Waialeʻe which was once an abundant food system and still hosts several species of endangered waterbirds and fish to this day.
At the outset of the day, the group of athletes and partners gathered along the edge of Kalou, the two-acre freshwater fishpond which contains the primary concentration of natural springs in Waialeʻe. Kalou was once a productive aquacultural site, where native fish such as ʻamaʻama (striped mullet) and ʻoʻopu (Hawaiian goby) were grown prolifically. We shared with our guests that Waialeʻe was described by John Papa ʻĪʻī, a revered 19th century Hawaiian historian, as "he ʻāina lako pono," a completely abundant land. Waialeʻe Lako Pono, meaning "holistically abundant Waialeʻe" has become the title and guiding vision for this project.
After this introduction, the group began by removing invasive grasses from one of our pilot loʻi kalo (wetland taro patches). Kalo (taro) is one of the most nutritionally important staple crops of Kānaka Maoli. Loʻi kalo are an innovation which allow for higher-quality taro to be grown with less input of labor and fertilizer as compared to dryland agriculture. Loʻi kalo also provide optimal habitat for many species of Hawaiian waterbirds such as the ʻalae ʻula (Hawaiian gallinule) and ʻalae keʻokeʻo (Hawaiian coot); filter sediment and nutrients from upland runoff to minimize pollution of nearshore reefs; and slow down and spread out the water flow across the landscape, allowing more water to percolate back into the soil and recharge our aquifers.
We then turned our attention to planting kalo, which is transplanted by stem cuttings known as huli. During this time, we shared with the group that kalo is a spiritual ancestor of our people. In Hawaiian cosmogony, Wākea (Sky Father) and Hoʻohōkūkalani (She who put the stars in the heavens) conceived a child, who was sadly still-born. They buried the child on the eastern side of their house, and from this spot grew the first kalo plant, which they named Hāloa-na-ka-lau-kapalili (long stem of the quivering leaf). The two parental deities attempted to conceive a second child, and this time successfully gave birth to a healthy son who became the first Kānaka Maoli. They named this child Hāloa in honor of his elder brother. The story of Hāloa teaches us that by tending to our elder brother Hāloanakalaukapalili, and our entire genealogy of ancestors including all plants, animals, and the Earth itself, we too will be cared for, and our collective hā (breath and life force) as a people will persist loa (for a very long time).
We concluded our time together by walking down to the shore of Waialeʻe beach. While its fringing reefs were once a thriving habitat for many varieties of seaweed, fish, and other marine life, today, the area is less vibrant due to issues such as overfishing, marine debris from local and foreign sources, and coastal erosion that is exacerbated by global climate change. While still beautiful at first glance, looking deeper one can see the impacts that this coast is already facing.
Our time together mirrored the natural flow of water, from the source at Kalou Fishpond, through the loʻi kalo, out to Waialeʻe beach. This small piece of Waialeʻe illustrates a small-scale representation of the Hawaiian ahupuaʻa system of resource management, which often aligns with local watersheds. Everything that we do on land will impact our local waterways, all of which ultimately lead to the ocean. By the time an impact reaches the ocean, it is likely too late to address it. We need to stop the impacts to our ocean at the source by providing for our own basic needs through practices which also care for natural resources. That said, we cannot only act locally. Many of the impacts we see along our coasts originate from global issues such as plastic pollution and climate-change induced sea level rise. We must also spread the message of aloha ʻāina (caring for the land and all that which feeds us), and the respective environmental ethics of cultures across the globe. We must internalize these messages and find ways to truly reduce our impact on our planet. If we don't act now, our coasts will continue to degrade, diminishing or even preventing our ability to enjoy the ocean in the future.
We are grateful to WSL, and global WSL One Ocean partners SHISEIDO and YETI, for joining NSCLT in our mission by providing critical funds to the Waialeʻe Lako Pono project. This donation will provide tools and supplies to support 24 community work days at Waialeʻe throughout 2023. This will result in the removal of literal tons of invasive plants from Waialeʻe to make way for restored fish ponds and loʻi kalo. Before long, we will be able to share this bounty with residents and visitors to the North Shore. We hope that through this process, more people will begin to recognize the depth of cultural and environmental significance that once made this place famous, and arguably helped make the widespread practice of surfing possible. Through continued stewardship, that historical abundance can continue.
If you would like to join us, consider stopping by Waialeʻe to turn your hands to the soil. For more information on how to get involved, visit northshoreland.org.
As surfers, the ocean is our playground and our stadium. Getting involved in protecting and conserving the ocean is critical for us today and for future generations. Tell us what you are doing us by posting on social media with the hashtag #WSLOneOcean and tagging @wsl and @wsloneocean in your posts. You can learn more and get involved at WSLOneOcean.org.