Protecting Loʻi Paʻakai in Hanapēpē


The mokupuni of Kauaʻi holds many beautiful treasures preserved by the hardworking Kānaka on the island and the renowned loʻi paʻakai of Hanapēpē, Kauaʻi, is just one shining example of what can happen when Kānaka come together to perpetuate traditional cultural practices.

The loʻi paʻakai ʻo ʻukulā ma Hanapēpē is one of the few remaining sites for traditional Hawaiian salt farming. In this wahi pana (storied place), Hui Hana Paʻakai o Hanapēpē (Hui) is perpetuating traditional salt-making practices and passing this ʻike down to upcoming generations.

However, this work comes with its own set of challenges.

In close proximity to the loʻi paʻakai sits the Port Allen Airport, also known as Burns Field. Once the first emergency landing strip on Kauaʻi, the airfield is now utilized by scenic helicopter tour operators. Currently operating on the airstrip are Smoky Mountain Helicopters (dba Maverick Helicopters) and D & J Air Adventures (dba Sky Dive Kauaʻi) both of whom have previously caused issues for the salt-makers.

In August 2019, the Hui reached out to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Health for the immediate investigation of an unpermitted restroom facility utilizing a cesspool – which generated concerns about contaminants leaching into the soil and affecting the salt beds.

Later that year, the County of Kauaʻi Planning Department sent a Notice of Violation and Order to Pay Fines to Smoky Mountain Helicopters and D & K Air Adventures.

As of 2023, the cesspool is not in use, but the salt-makers are looking much further to preserve the loʻi paʻakai. “To my knowledge, they’re not using the cesspool anymore. But being very honest, our goal was really to shut them down and so we were trying to block them wherever we could,” said Malia Nobrega-Olivera, an alakaʻi for the salt-makers of Hanapēpē.

Today, the airfield has limited activity which has been a huge win for the Hui.

“During COVID, a lot of their operations really slowed down which, from our point of view, was a blessing,” said Nobrega-Olivera. “It’s still a high priority for us that the airstrip be not used [at all].”

Although the pandemic slowed helicopter operations, it also brought a significant number of houseless people into the Hanapēpē area. And many of them created makeshift bathrooms close to the loʻi paʻakai during the stay-at-home order.

The Hui is currently working with the county to move the nearby camping area further from the salt-making areas as the same issue is prevalent with campers in the area. With the houseless population in Hanapēpē decreasing, the Hui hopes that moving the campsite will help stop the mistreatment of the loʻi paʻakai by visitors.

“When they’re right there, nearest to the salt-making area, and they get lazy, instead of walking to the bathroom, which is maybe 50 steps away, they just end up making shishi or whatever right in the area,” said Nobrega-Olivera.

Another major issue the Hui faces is flooding due to both rainfall and high tides. By working with the county, they were able to place boulders to block vehicular traffic on the beach area.

“That has really been a big one of our best solutions yet because we can see the natural restoration of the sand dunes and are also seeing some of the mea kanu (plants) coming back through the sand dunes,” Nobrega-Olivera said.

“ʻĀkulikuli kai is coming back and with these plants naturally growing through the sand dunes it helps to hold the sand in place and then, without the vehicles driving on the sand, it mitigates the overtopping of waves.”

As a result of recent heavy rainfall on Kauaʻi, salt-making was halted during May because the saltpans were flooded.

“It’s slowly starting to dry up. So we’re hoping maybe in about a month the place will be really dry and hopefully the weather will stay hot,” said Nobrega-Olivera.

As the Hui looks to the future, they are in talks with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to possibly take on the lease of a nearby 10-acre abandoned property.

“I don’t know if that’s the best thing for us because it’s not like we have the time to be doing all of that too,” Nobrega-Olivera said. “But when they [DLNR] asked us what we would do on that piece of property, I told them that it was more for creating a buffer zone around our area so that we can prevent development in the area. And if we can implement other mitigation efforts, maybe we can slow down erosion.”

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