Impacts of climate change in loko i‘a (traditional Hawaiian fishponds) management II

A line of workers bend over a loose pile of rocks along the shore, repairing the boundary wall.
Ongoing maintenance and restoration of Hale O Lono loko i‘a aims to preserve these valuable cultural and economic resources.

On the east side of Moku o Keawe (Hawai‘i Island), along the Keaukaha coastline, there is a valuable and critical resource known for its brackish water habitat. This ecosystem occurs in the near shore zones where upwelling groundwater and marine seawater meet at the shoreline. Brackish water habitats serve as a sustainable food source for coastal communities and as a result, the environmental health of these systems is closely tied to the survival of many Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) cultural practices. This study assesses the potential impacts of climate change on the coastline of Keaukaha in the Hilo district of Hawai‘i Island. Sea-level rise, in particular, is of growing concern for the community because the low-lying coastal zone relies on the sustainable brackish water ecosystem. Saltwater intrusion could drastically alter not just the habitat, but also impact the cultural practices since many traditions are associated with these environments. For example, there are traditional gatherings at loko i‘a (Hawaiian fishponds) and storytelling during the gatherings that teach the Kanaka Maoli cultural practices. This study will focus on the impacts of climate change on loko i‘a, but it will also seek to determine if Hawaiian fishpond restoration is advantageous for mitigating environmental changes to the brackish water ecosystems of Keaukaha, Hawai‘i.

Landscape of Honokea Fishpond with high levels of water drowning surrounding trees.
Flooding at Honokea fishpond associated with extreme tides today provides a preview of the effects of rising sea levels in the future. Loko i‘a management must adapt to changing climate, salinity, and nutrient loads.

Project Collaborators

Masters Student

  • Kamala Anthony, Fishpond Manager (Honokea Loko) and graduate student

Faculty Advisor

  • Steven “Steve” Colbert, Associate Professor of Marine Science, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo

Committee Members

  • Blake McNaughton, Fishpond Manager (Waiāhole and Kapalaho loko iʻa), Kumuola Science Education Center, Kamehameha Schools
  • Troy Sakihara, Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources
  • Becky Ostertag, Professor, Biology; Program Chair, M.S. in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science

Additional Collaborators

  • Luka Mossman, Manager, Hale o Lono Fishpond, Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation and Conservation International Hawaiʻi
  • John Burns, Lecturer/Researcher, Marine Science, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
  • Jason Adolf, Associate Professor (Marine Science), Dept. of Biology, Monmouth University




Steven Colbert
Associate Professor of Marine Science, UH Hilo


Kamala Anthony
Tropical Conservation Biology & Environmental Science
UH Hilo

Blake McNaughton
Kumuola Marine Science Education Center
Kamehameha Schools

Troy Sakihara
DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources

Becky Ostertag
Tropical Conservation Biology & Environmental Science
UH Hilo

Luka Mossman
Kiaʻi Loko, Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation
Fisheries Outreach Coordinator, Conservation International

John Burns
Marine Science Researcher
UH Hilo

Jason Adolf
Professor of Marine Science
Monmouth University