Changing Hawaiian seascapes and their management implications

A scenic view from a rocky shore across choppy waves to a tree-lined shore on the opposite side of the bay.
View across Hilo Bay. (Photo: AnsonChappell CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hawaiian shorelines and near-shore waters have long been used for cultural activities, food gathering and fishing, and recreation. As seascapes are physically altered by changing climate, the ways in which people experience these environments will likely change as well. Local perspectives of how seascapes are changing over time can help managers better understand and manage these areas for both natural persistence and human use.

For this project, researchers conducted interviews and surveys of surfers and other ocean users to gather observations and perceptions of change over time at Hilo Bay, Hawaiʻi. They combined these results with historical data on public beach use and biophysical data from monitoring buoys and weather stations located in and around Hilo Bay. Findings reveal patterns in the conditions that ocean users consider “desirable,” but also point to the fact that people have very individual experiences of seascapes. Ocean users’ perspectives of change are not only based on physical alterations to the environment but also on social factors. Thus, their insight can complement traditional biological monitoring by providing information about how climate change is directly experienced.

A graphic illustrating the interrelation between type of user, duration, and scale of activity.
Scales at which users interact with the seascape vary by activity.




Noelani Puniwai
Affiliate Faculty, UH Hilo