Wetlands Restoration Is Fulfilling a Community Vision

The Takeaway: Heʻeia’s restored wetlands on Oahu are already providing benefits such as increased food security, water quality, and native species.

Past agricultural changes to He‘eia’s wetlands, once known for abundant taro crops and naturally healthy fishponds, had led to runoff, invasive species, and sedimentation. These days, the community is enjoying improved water quality, food production, and flood mitigation because of a 400-acre restoration project that also integrates climate-adaptation features. Volunteers and community groups—and funding from the Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Program—made it happen. The Heʻeia National Estuarine Research Reserve supports ongoing restoration efforts.

The effort began in 2010 when concerned community members met with kupuna (local elders) to seek restoration advice. The first order of business was to restore two key sources of the Hawaiian diet—240 acres for cultivating taro and an 88-acre traditional fishpond that, before its degradation, had been used for 800 years.

Now restored, these resources are yielding homegrown food in a state where an unsustainable 85 percent of food is imported, according to Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture. Taro crops aid the fishpond’s ecology as well. One acre of taro can produce 5,000 pounds of tubers, and one acre of the pond potentially can yield 500 pounds of fish.

More benefits are piling up. Resource managers have noticed the return of native and endangered bird species, some of which haven’t been seen in a generation or more. And during a 2018 storm and flood event, the taro patches cut flood damage, water pollution, and damage to corals by serving as sediment retention basins.

The research reserve is joining partners on an upcoming project to plant more native species and combine traditional and modern restoration methods.

Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi led the restoration plan with funding from the coastal program. Other partners, past and ongoing, include the Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology, Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, Paepae o He‘eia, and The Nature Conservancy. (2016/updated 2019)

More Information: Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi

Partners: Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Program, He‘eia National Estuarine Research Reserve, NOAA Sentinel Site Cooperative, Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi, Paepae o He‘eia, Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, The Nature Conservancy, and Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology