Loko Ea Fish Pond, Oahu – On Earth Day 2017, Na Ali‘i employees gathered to help restore Loko Ea, a traditional tidal fish pond built by Native Hawaiians 600 years ago. Loko Ea, meaning “The Rising Pond,” covers seven acres and is separated from the ocean by a wall with mākāhā, sluice gated openings that allow seawater to flow in and out at high tide. Small fingerling fish enter the pond through the mākāhā, but as they grow larger they can no longer leave. Ponds such as this support rich ecosystems of fish, crabs, and other marine life, and for centuries provided a sustainable food source for Native Hawaiians who tended them according to principles of mālama ‘āina (ecological stewardship).
Jean Pfau, a Na Ali‘i employee who volunteered at Loko Ea, said, “It was an amazing opportunity to actually do hands-on work and give back to the community, to help make it a better place, and contribute to sustainability and education.” She brought her son to Loko Ea where he learned how to catch fish in a traditional hand-cast net, experiencing firsthand how Native Hawaiians lived off the land. Another volunteer, Neja Ramirez, said, “I went out with my two daughters, age 3 and 5, and they didn’t want to leave. They’re Native Hawaiian and they love learning about their land and their culture. It really meant a lot to them.”
Loko Ea fell out of use during the 20th century and was located on privately owned land, keeping it unknown even to many local residents. The current restoration effort has been led by James Estores, Site Superintendent and Health & Safety Manager at Na Ali‘i’s Hawaii office. When James first saw the pond, he instantly felt powerfully drawn to it and was captivated by the idea of restoring it as a community service project.
Since then, with Na Ali‘i’s support, the restoration has grown from a grassroots community effort to the mission of a dedicated foundation. Volunteer and community support is still crucial, as on Earth Day when Na Ali‘i volunteers worked together to clear weeds, cut back vegetation, and remove accumulated sand from the pond’s bottom. The pond is now only ankle-deep in some places but will eventually be restored to its original depth of three to four feet, making it a habitat for increased fish population and expanding its productivity as a food source. James says one goal is to eventually have the pond function as a source of low-cost protein for local community members.
Na Ali‘i President Cariann Ah Loo, who was also volunteering at Loko Ea on Earth Day, said, “What James is trying to do is teach the youth and the community the cultural values of Native Hawaiians as demonstrated in the pond: How to care for the environment and feed the community, as well as preserving traditional technologies and methods. As a company, we want to help promote this and we feel passionately that it’s something that’s important to preserve. Supporting this effort ties with our mission of promoting the Native Hawaiian community and with our STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] education efforts. It’s a melding of two worlds.” Loko Ea’s restoration meshes closely with Na Ali‘i’s STEM education commitment: Students who visit the fish pond are given a gateway into the world of marine biology, exploring a unique tidal ecosystem as well using sophisticated instruments to measure water quality and other indicators of the pond’s condition. They learn firsthand how the environment’s health, the community, and the traditions of the Native Hawaiians are all inextricably linked.
Sean Sasaki, a Na Ali‘i engineer whose sons came with him to Loko Ea and helped catch fingerlings to stock the pond for future use, summed up the essence of the project when he said: “My family has history with the pond and we’ve been part of the restoration plan for years now. By taking care of this place, you take care of yourself and the community as well.”