In the 15th century, when thousands of round, heavy rocks were stacked at Ali’i Fishpond, the Western world had no idea the Hawaiian Islands existed. Out here in the middle of the Pacific, far past the edges of what at the time was the “known,” teams of strong, hardworking Hawaiians were creating fishponds that by today’s standards are engineering marvels.
Over the past 600 years, however, many of the fishponds on Molokai’s south shore have slowly crumbled with time. Dry stacked rocks are battered by surf, sluice gates are subjected to tides, and invasive mangroves gobble a shoreline that was once just footprints and sand. Thanks to groups like Ka Honua Momona, however, who have been slowly restoring Molokai’s fishponds since 2003, places like Ali’i and Kaloko’eli Fishpond are once again starting to thrive.
Just five minutes east of Kaunakakai, the two fishponds are about 4 to 6 feet deep and up to 30 acres in size—though 5 at Ali’i alone are still covered in tangles of mangroves. Thanks to continued efforts, however, by the group and their volunteers, over 3 acres of thick, twisted mangroves have been cleared to open up the pond, and more than 500 feet have been added to a wall that stretches 2,700 feet in total. Aside from restocking and rebuilding the walls, the group has also tackled the challenge of removing invasive limu (seaweed), with over 20 tons of one type—gorilla ogo—having been scooped, bagged, and trucked off to help native species thrive.
When you volunteer with Ka Honua Momona and aid in rebuilding the fishponds, the experience goes deeper than helping stack rocks or hacking away at mangroves. This is a chance to stack the same stones that Hawaiians did 600 years ago, and aid in reviving sustainability for future generations. Many of Molokai’s most prized species of fish, from ‘anae (mullet) to papio ( blue fin) and moi (pacific threadfin) are now abundant in the ancient pond and provide food for Na Kupuna (elders). The next generation of island youth also learn about management practices, such as regulating seasons for certain fish that allows the stock to thrive—such as understanding how runoff mauka (mountainside) of the pond creates silt and sedimentation.
To volunteer with Ka Honua Momona, contact the office at (808) 553-8353 or visit online at www.kahonuamomona.org. Community work days take place at 9am on the third Saturday of each month, and private sessions can also be arranged for schools or visiting groups.