story by Catharine Lo
photos by Brad Goda
Some places are best characterized by the sounds associated with them: The energetic Afro-Cuban beat of the conga drums on the cobbled streets of Havana, say, or the clinking waterfalls of coins dropping from slot machines inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. At the He‘eia fishpond, there are only nature’s gentle interruptions of silence: a fish breaking the calm surface of the water, the occasional squawk from a passing bird, small ripples lapping the edge of the stone retaining wall as the tide rises and falls.
Seen from above, He‘eia’s 1.3-mile-long wall of basalt and coral appears to be a living lei, enclosing an eighty-eight-acre pocket of windward O‘ahu’s Kane‘ohe Bay. A sliver of a subdivision borders one quarter of the ring, built on the bluffs overlooking the bay. The lush vegetation of He‘eia State Park borders another quarter, surrounding also the freshwater stream that empties into the pond. On the seaward half of the pond, fingers of the fringing reef reach out beyond the wall and into the great turquoise-blue Pacific.
But what isn’t seen or heard on the surface at He‘eia is the reason for its existence: pualu, moi, awa, kaku, papio, ‘ama‘ama—surgeonfish, threadfin, milkfish, barracuda, juvenile jack, mullet. During precontact times, it’s estimated that this loko i‘a—only one of many fishponds that once existed in the lush Ko‘olau Poko district—fed a community of several thousand. And it’s this function that ultimately defines He‘eia’s sense of place.
“For me, as a Hawaiian, I know that I’m walking in the footprints of my ancestors,” says Mahina Paishon Duarte, the executive director of Paepae O He‘eia, the nonprofit organization that is currently restoring the pond. “They left a wonderful blueprint for sustainability. It’s good to know that the first engineers were thinking of ways to feed the population.”
But in addition to its deep cultural roots, this particular fishpond has a modern resonance and import: Its position as a buffer between rural areas and urban sprawl encouraged Paepae O He‘eia to include the outlying community in managing the resource. “What I think we lack is time for us—people in the community and managers of the pond—to become intimate with the rhythm and the nuances of the environment itself. If we have a place where we can model good behavior—sound practices of caring for our resources and a sustainable lifestyle, along with good decision-making and ethics—then it’s possible for the next generation to carry that on.”