×

Ko‘ie‘ie Fishpond holds community workday

Efforts follow calls to restore historic pond

Volunteers flash a shaka while passing rocks to place along the wall during a community workday at the Ko‘ie‘ie Fishpond in north Kihei on Saturday morning. ‘Ao‘ao O Na Loko I‘a O Maui, the nonprofit that oversees restoration and education at the pond, hosted a workday in the wake of community calls to restore the walls and remove recreational activities from the fishpond. Photo courtesy Joylynn Paman

In the wake of community calls to finish the walls of Ko’ie’ie Fishpond and remove recreational activities, volunteers gathered for a morning of moving pohaku at the ancient fishpond Saturday.

‘Ao’ao O Na Loko I’a O Maui, the nonprofit that oversees education and restoration of the fishpond, held a community workday that drew about two dozen volunteers, “which is a good number for community workdays for us,” Executive Director Joylynn Paman said.

“They were able to help us transfer large rocks from the center of the fishpond and move them back towards the wall, right by the wall,” Paman said Sunday. “That was super helpful. I’d say we did about a couple hundred rocks in about an hour and a half.”

Volunteers passed rocks hand in hand and stockpiled them according to size along the wall, where skilled masons can come later on to place the rocks “so that everything interlocks correctly,” Paman said.

“I always tell the volunteers, every rock they lift is one less rock that we would need to lift,” she said.

The 4-acre Ko’ie’ie Fishpond is believed to have been built about 400 to 500 years ago and was reserved for the alii as a “loko kuapa.” But over the years, ranching and forest clearing Upcountry caused erosion that eventually filled up fishponds along the South Maui coastline.

‘Ao’ao O Na Loko I’a O Maui formed in 1998 with the goal of restoring and educating the community about the fishpond. The nonprofit leases the area from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

But recently, Ko’ie’ie and the nonprofit have been at the center of controversy after some residents, including those that helped with original restoration efforts in 2005, complained about the recreational activities taking place at the pond. They said the activities were culturally inappropriate and wanted to see the fishpond’s walls completed and a functional sluice gate, or makaha, installed. The nonprofit, however, says it’s unable to stop these recreational activities because they’re allowed within the lease.

Since the community meeting on June 10, Paman said she has met with DLNR and that “everybody feels comfortable with how we’ve been conducting our business,” because it’s in line with what the state allows.

However, “we’re going to be still going back and forth with DLNR to see if there’s amendments that could be or should be made in our lease agreement to take into consideration what the community has discussed,” Paman said.

When asked what the nonprofit might continue doing and what it might change, Paman said some things are still “up in the air” and she didn’t want to get people’s hopes up until things were finalized with DLNR.

Since the meeting, however, Paman said she has not seen the stand-up paddleboard yoga classes or the Kihei Canoe Club conducting tours. Both groups have said they would not continue activities at the fishpond after residents raised concerns. Paman pointed out that access is a little harder to control at Ko’ie’ie — which is surrounded by public county and federal lands and is just across the street from condos — as compared to fishponds on other islands that are located in remote or residential areas.

‘Ao’ao O Na Loko I’a O Maui also offers educational canoe tours, which last year provided about 60 percent of the nonprofit’s roughly $30,000 annual budget. The other 25 percent was from donations, and the remaining 15 percent from a grant. However, just because the tours made up a large portion of last year’s budget doesn’t mean the nonprofit plans to rely solely on it in the future, Paman said.

“Our intention definitely is to restore the wall and put in the makaha,” she said. “Our canoe tours are a great way for us to fundraise at this moment, but it’s never always been the only way that we fundraise. We’ve relied more on getting grants and private donations in the past to sustain our nonprofit.

“So we don’t want to mislead everybody to think that the canoe tours are the only way we plan on raising funds,” she continued. “We definitely want to seek those grants.”

Paman said if the nonprofit could get grants or other funding of about $100,000 a year over the next two or three years, that could help pay for a part-time crew to finish and maintain the wall.

The nonprofit would need of a core crew of four or five skilled masons who could help finish the wall. Paman said the nonprofit used to hold workdays twice a month, but that people weren’t coming and staff had to commute from far away. School groups and community organizations sometimes stop by to help, but there’s only so much lifting the keiki can do.

“We’re happy to have anybody to help us from the community, and if we can get that core group of people to help become those skilled masons and dedicate their time, whether it’s as a volunteer or as paid labor when (funding) comes through, then we’d be happy to do that,” Paman said.

For more information, visit mauifishpond.com or email koieie@mauifishpond.com.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.