Loko i‘a need our help

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

Loko i’a, or traditional Hawaiian fishponds, are an undeniable example of ancient Hawaiian innovation and an important symbol of Hawaiian culture. They remind us and the rest of the world of our ability to be true leaders who can sustain, create and maintain healthy, thriving communities.

The first loko i’a was built in Hana by Ku’ula Kai, a resident of Leho-ula more than 700 years ago. Since then, over 300 loko i’a have been identified throughout the Hawaiian Islands chain.

Unfortunately, of these 300, only 57 fishponds are designated as “worth preserving.” It is our kuleana to help preserve and restore the few remaining loko i’a that we have left in Maui County.

Without our help, loko i’a will continue to degrade and fall into further disrepair until they are past the point of restoration. In good conscience, we cannot allow this to happen.

Although various organizations and groups have worked to preserve Maui, Molokai and Lanai fishponds, a lack of ongoing and continued support, sustained manpower and adequate resources create serious challenges to the preservation and restoration of the loko i’a.

All known loko i’a fall within state jurisdiction, are located upon private land, or both, creating additional obstacles and jurisdictional issues for private groups wanting to preserve and restore them.

I believe the county should help coordinate efforts between landowners and restoration groups to malama these precious resources by initiating and strengthening public-private partnerships.

Prior County Councils have passed resolutions meant to improve loko i’a conditions. For example, in 1982 a request was made for the state and county to establish a long-range resource management plan for the restoration and use of Molokai’s loko i’a by Council Member Abraham Aiona.

In 2000, the council urged then-Mayor Kimo Apana’s administration to support the organization, Loko i’a in its efforts to revitalize the 60 or more fishponds found on Molokai.

Loko i’a drove numerous outreach programs and educated community members about the importance of loko i’a historically, at present, and for the future.

At the time, the people of Molokai identified the revitalization of fishponds as a high priority to their economic future and viewed restored loko i’a as a way of enhancing Molokai’s marine environment.

Despite these previous efforts, persistent issues of changing lifestyles, urban development and neglect of cultural resources continue to be major factors negatively impacting loko i’a and other historic resources.

In the past, federal and state agencies have contributed some funding and donations to organizations engaged in preservation efforts, but they must do more. Other than offering its encouragement to state agencies and nonprofit organizations, the county has done little to directly support loko i’a preservation and restoration. The county can, and must, do more.

It is time that we step up and take responsibility for our role in preserving and restoring these irreplaceable and incredibly important resources.

I and several of my constituents believe that loko i’a, as symbols of Hawaiian culture, should not and cannot be left to deteriorate.

That said, I will be proposing a subject matter referral to the council at its meeting on May 4 to start a public conversation about how the county can do its part in preserving and restoring our loko i’a.

* Elle Cochran is chair of the Maui County Council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. She holds the council seat for the West Maui residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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