The impacts of sea level rise have been visible on the North Shore of Oʻahu for over a decade. Coastal erosion has claimed trees, homes, and even portions of a bike path. While property damage is a more noticeable outcome, climate change stands to affect this region in other ways, such as inundating native ecosystems, affecting cultural sites, and compromising agricultural lands. These impacts are also connected to complex social, political and economic issues that will require innovative solutions globally and locally. The place-based knowledge of Native communities sets an inspiring precedent that can teach us not only how to live more sustainably but also how to better adapt to natural disasters.
Waialeʻe Lako Pono, a project of North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT), seeks to address many of these interconnected issues by restoring lako pono, or multi-faceted abundance, at a coastal freshwater wetland site in the ahupuaʻa (land division) of Waialeʻe, just two miles north of Pipeline. Project activities to date include native ecosystem restoration, traditional Kanaka ʻŌiwi (native Hawaiian) agriculture, and community education.
For the second year in a row, NSCLT and WSL One Ocean partnered to host a community activation at Waialeʻe Lako Pono in conjunction with the Lexus Pipe Pro. Last year, WSL provided funding to support NSCLT in restoring 700 square meters (7,500 square feet) of loʻi kalo (taro patches), sustainably growing 1,000 lbs of kalo (taro), engaging 550 volunteers, planting 300 native plants, and educating 150 youth, and protecting 6 native wildlife species. This year, WSL PURE made another donation to NSCLT to continue the work, and WSL staff and athletes, sponsors SHISEIDO, YETI, and MANANALU and community volunteers gathered again to visit the site and help make a difference at Waialeʻe.
One of the major restoration challenges at Waialeʻe is invasive species such as the water hyacinth. Native to the Amazon, this floating plant has smothered waterways across the world due to its ability to spread easily and multiply rapidly. However, water hyacinths have also become a valuable resource. In Bangladesh, baira or floating rafts made of decomposed water hyacinth, have been used as growing beds for diverse crops in seasonally flooded lands. Similar floating agricultural systems have also been developed by other Native communities such as the chinampas in Mexico, the maʻa in Sāmoa, and loʻi ʻakaʻakai here in Hawaiʻi.
Inspired by these many local and global examples of floating gardens, we enlisted activation participants to help us to gather water hyacinths into a rectangular wooden frame to build baira-style floating gardens. Volunteers filled the frame with hyacinths, and compacted the plants together until the mound was solid. We then repeated the process to build several more floating beds over the course of the morning.
After mounding, the hyacinths need a couple of weeks to settle, so we weren't able to plant into our baira at the activation itself. However, we did plant some kalo using another traditional Hawaiian style of farming: puʻepuʻe (earthen mounds). Puʻepuʻe are a resilient adaptation used to deal with fluctuating water levels and temperatures, as well as protect the crops from aquatic pests.
Building floating gardens is particularly fitting at Waialeʻe because it ties into a kaʻao (traditional story) of the place. It is said that there was once a floating island off Oʻahu's north coast called Kahuku Lewa. This island would drift around in the ocean, crash into Oʻahu's shores and creating a great noise which disturbed both islands' residents. One version of the kaʻao tells that Māui, a Hawaiian and Pacific ancestral hero, used two magical hooks to capture and secure Kahuku Lewa to its mainland. These hooks left impressions which would later become fishponds known as Pōlou, which is located near the Kahuku Sugar Mill, and Kalou, which is part of the wetlands at Waialeʻe. These ponds historically served as sources of abundance that required the cooperation of the community to maintain, and in doing so perpetuated a harmony among the community by providing abundant food for all.
As we face interconnected global issues such as climate change, there is much to learn from Native peoples who have survived millennia in their respective homelands. As the changes become unprecedented, it may be necessary to adopt practices from other places which have already faced those conditions. This is what we hope to do as we look to global examples as we restore floating gardens at Waialeʻe.
Floating gardens will be more resilient in the face of increased flooding and saltwater inundation. They will provide nesting habitat for waterbirds such as ʻalae ʻula (Hawaiian gallinule) which is safe from land-based predators. They will also allow us reduce the populations of invasive plants and replace them with native vegetation. One day we hope to eradicate water hyacinth and use the native ʻakaʻakai (great bulrush) to build these garden rafts as our Kanaka ʻŌiwi ancestors once did.
By rooting ourselves in the time-tested traditions of place, while considering global perspectives and involving broad cross-section of community members, we believe we can keep the people, ecosystems, and land of Kahuku Lewa secure in the face of a rising sea and all it brings. As a global destination, we hope that we can also share the insights we learn along the way with all who visit the North Shore.
If you would like to join North Shore Community Land Trust, 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.
WSL One Ocean is a global initiative supported by SHISEIDO and YETI with regional support from MANANALU.