In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

Reefs and fisheries at historic Ka’ūpūlehu are making a comeback

Sponsored by the Nature Conservancy

Historic Ka’ūpūlehu on the Kona Coast of Hawaii Island was once renowned for its productive nearshore fisheries. Over the last 40 years, those fisheries have declined dramatically. In 2016, community members petitioned the state to allow them to rest a 3.6-mile stretch of coastline for 10 years. The campaign, dubbed “Try Wait,” argued that if given a break from the pressures of unsustainable fishing, depleted marine life would recover. Today, fish populations are already beginning to recover.

Ka’ūpūlehu is the first modern day community-driven fishery rest area managed in partnership with lineal descendant of the region. Kapu areas like the one being implemented at Ka’ūpūlehu is a strategy Hawaiian communities have used to restore depleted fisheries for generations.

Nature Conservancy dive surveys show a 30 – 60 percent increase inside the rest area of the reef fish that people like to eat, but that’s just a start. Some of the longer-lived food fish species will need the full 10 years to recover.

Nature Conservancy dive survey findings:
62% increase in some wrasses (i.e., hogfish) inside the rest area, and 3% outside
30% increase in some parrotfish (i.e., uhu) inside the rest area, and 3% outside
46% increase in some surgeonfish (i.e., kole) inside the rest area, and 21% outside
Evidence of spillover, or fish populations increasing just outside the reserve boundary

In addition, coral surveys documented stable or slightly increasing coral cover following the mass bleaching event in 2015 – 2016 that saw high ocean temperatures kill an average of 50 percent of the coral in West Hawaii. This is another indicator that reducing impact on an area can help promote reef resilience.

In 2016, the state committed to effectively manage 30 percent of the nearshore waters by 2030. To achieve this ambitious goal, community-based co-management is crucial, and it’s best achieved through a collaborative process based on science, local knowledge, and traditional practices. Kaʻūpūlehu is a great example of how the state can work with local communities to achieve the 30×30 goal.

For more information: FB, Twitter: @TNCHawaii, IG: @nature_hi