Restoration Ecology in Hawaii

Waipa Foundation, a model for restoration!
by -- March 15th, 2013

On Tuesday morning, we visited the Waipa Foundation, a nonprofit organization that manages a 1,600-acre educational facility and community center located on the beautiful north shore of Kauai.

Stacy Sproat-Beck, the foundation’s executive director, spent most of the day educating us about the history of the foundation, which works to preserve the island’s culture and traditions and educate people about the responsibility of caring for its valuable natural resources.  One of the highlights of the day was when Stacy provided us with hands-on opportunities to work on several of the foundation’s current restoration projects.

At the seven-acre Makai-Halulu Fishpond Restoration Project, we learned that maintaining a healthy estuary — or muliwai — is important because this where salt water mixes with fresh, providing a vital habitat where pua — baby fish — can gather and grow.  The Waipa Foundation, along with its funders and partners, has recently restored one acre of the seven-acre Halulu fishpond  — or loko puuone —  and restored its connection to nearby Waioli Stream.  They’ve also re-established native plants along its banks.  This restoration has expanded the Waioli stream estuary area by one acre, adding more safe, healthy, nutrient-rich habitat where the pua can thrive. This area also functions as a learning site, where classes and groups come to learn about the importance of the region’s muliwai and kahakai, or beach, ecosystems.  We learned that the muliwai and kahakai are part of a larger tract of land, traditionally called an ahupua`a. Each ahupua`a is shaped like a slice of pie that begins inland, near an island’s mountaintops, and stretches down to the ocean.  In old Hawaii, people who lived in the mountainous parts of an ahupua`a would barter with those who lived near the ocean for necessary resources and supplies.  A complete balance in this land system is what kept the Hawaiian people alive.

We also toured the ahupua`a’s kula zone, or open meadows.  In ancient times the kula zone of an ahupua`a was the area for growing food, and also for living. The Waipa Foundation has been creating and restoring wetland and dryland farming areas in its kula zone.  Staff members are now growing kalo — or taro — and other traditional food crops there, and leading classes on cultural and life skills, including teaching people how to grow their own food.  Waipa’s lo’i — or taro patch — is a two-acre area that is farmed by staff, volunteers and program participants, and also used as site for experimenting with more organic and sustainable farming approaches.

If you are ever on the island, do yourself a favor and spend some time with Stacy learning about Kauai’s culture and the foundation’s mission through her captivating stories and contagious positive personality.  You can learn more about the foundation at

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