Workshop participants assembled custom low-cost tide gauges designed in Glazer’s lab. Each participating pond group took a gauge home to their loko i‘a for custom, site-specific tide measurements. - Photo: Courtesy of Kua‘āina Ulu ‘Auamo (KUA)

Scientists and community members representing 18 fishponds came together for a three-day workshop last month, blending cultural and environmental resilience with contemporary technology.

Loko iʻa, or Hawaiian fishponds, are unique aquaculture systems that continue to feed and connect communities around the islands. Many of the 488 loko iʻa identified in a statewide survey are in degraded condition, sometimes completely beyond repair or unrecognizable as fishponds. However, at sites that are partially intact, communities and stewardship groups are actively restoring or have expressed interest in reviving the integrity and productivity of these places. Since 2004, kiaʻi loko, fishpond guardians and caretakers, have met as a statewide network known as Hui Mālama Loko Iʻa, with a purpose of sharing expertise and resources to amplify their collective work in reactivating loko iʻa throughout Hawaiʻi. The network is currently facilitated by local non-profit Kua‘āina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA).

Photo: Carlo Caruso
UHM Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology graduate student, Carlo Caruso, led a breakout session to discuss coral bleaching dynamics and how emerging technologies are helping to measure light, color, and temperature of coral colonies. – Photo: Courtesy of Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA)

Technological advancements have exploded in the past five years, and the costs of emerging sensors and instruments have drastically decreased. Most of these advancements have not yet been applied to environmental sciences or oceanography. Brian Glazer, associate professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), and his lab group and collaborators are developing new technologies and methods at the confluence of a growing interest in low-cost do-it-yourself electronics and the widespread acknowledgement that aquatic systems are woefully undersampled. Over the past several years, and with funding from various sources, Glazer and team have developed low-cost wireless sensor packages that measure meteorological data, tides, water temperature, light, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, chlorophyll and turbidity – several parameters of interest that can inform the restoration and maintenance of fishponds across the state. Glazer sees this effort as a step in democratizing access to oceanographic sensor technology.

In addition to building their own tide gauges, participants visited Heʻeia Fishpond to talk with local kiaʻi loko about traditional measures of fishpond health and to see the new technology in action. The goals of the workshop, organized by Glazer and Loko Iʻa Coordinator at KUA, Brenda Asuncion, included:

  • Information exchange to blend local and traditional coastal knowledge about loko iʻa with contemporary sensor technologies and oceanographic research;
  • Review of lessons learned to understand fishpond restoration challenges, explore environmental sensor needs and knowledge gaps; and
  • Chart a course for developing future collaborations and success stories.

“This workshop is one important milestone in a very promising timeline of partnership between UH oceanography and local coastal communities,” said Glazer.