For generations, native Hawaiians have understood that their aquaculture systems, fishponds known as loko i‘a, serve as nurseries that seed fish populations in surrounding waters. Image Credit: Keli’i Kotubetey

EnvironmentSociety USA5. July 2024

How Indigenous Thinking Helps in Protecting Waters

A recently published study finally supports native aquaculture in Hawaii, the United States, thus promoting the communication of Indigenous knowledge to support governmental decision-making to heal ecosystems and communities.

“We are using science to translate ‘ike kupuna’, or Indigenous knowledge, into policy,” explains study co-author Kawika Winter, an ecologist at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) and He‘eia National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). “The value of this paper is that it’s one of the first, if not the first, to really show that there are ways to do aquaculture in ways that benefit the system around it.”

For generations, the aquaculture systems fishponds known as loko i’a provided sustenance to Indigenous communities, supported fish populations in surrounding waters, and improved water quality. Different restoration scenarios were simulated in an ancient fishpond enclosing 36 hectares of brackish water in Kāne‘ohe Bay on O‘ahu Island. The study shows that restoring more of the bay into fully functional loko I’a would grow fish populations in the ponds and across the bay. “Indigenous thinking is operating within the opportunities and constraints of this system and figuring out a way to make things abundant within that context, sometimes even increasing abundance beyond natural levels. That’s how the kupuna [ancestors] did it, and we’re reviving that.”


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