Hawai'i Coral Reef Network

"Hanau Ka 'Uku-ko'ako'a, Hanau Kana, he Ako'ako'a, puka"
[Born the coral polyp, Born of him a coral colony emerged]
-- Kumulipo, The Hawaiian Hymn of Creation, compiled by Rubellite Kawena Johnson, 1981

"How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? We do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. How can you buy them from us? ...the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next for he is a stranger who comes at night and takes whatever he needs... when he has conquered it, he moves on. He treats his mother, the Earth, and his Brother, the Sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the Earth and leave behind only a desert." -- Chief Seattle, 1854

Our philosophy and goals

Coral reefs are unique among marine communities. In addition to being spectacular displays of nature's creativity, coral reefs are reservoirs of biodiversity and are truly the "tropical rainforests of the sea." Coral reefs are one of the most productive and diverse assemblages on Earth and are important economic resources for many tropical regions of the world, especially islands. On a global scale reefs are being threatened with a variety of anthropogenetic threats: pollution from sewage, fertilizers, and pesticides; sediment runoff from the land; breakage from boat anchors and swimmers; overfishing; dredging and blasting; and global warming. Since Hawai'i has more reefs than anywhere in else in the U.S., and the U.S. is one of the political and economic (but necessarily environmental) leaders of the world, it follows that Hawai'i should be outstanding in the area of reef education, conservation, and stewardship. Although this is not currently true, the goal of the Hawai'i Coral Reef Network is to make this happen by fostering education and research on coral reefs and enhancing community involvement in reef conservation through stewardship. Our principal tool is communication: to connect people with common interests; to inform people of educational and research opportunities; of ongoing studies and data, and to locate and provide curricular material. These goals will be primarily addressed through the Internet via this web site, by coral reef workshops focusing on education and research updates, and through community reef monitoring workshops and "adopt-a-reef" programs.

Reef education

Many human-based impacts to reefs, such as pollution, sedimentation and breakage, are a direct consequence of ignorance about what corals are and how they can be damaged. Accordingly, education about reefs is the primary focus of our group. We will enhance education on reefs in several ways:

  • Community lectures on reef biology and ecology
  • Community workshops on coral reef monitoring methods
  • Web-based curricular material

Lectures and workshops are advertised at this web site, to members via e-mail, and eventually through the Hawai'i Coral Reef Network Newsletter. Much of the basic biology of corals is already discussed on other web sites. See the Links areas for more information.

Reef research

Knowledge about reefs is generally poor and long-term monitoring programs appropriate to the life cycles of the corals is virtually non-existent. In addition, the high diversity and complexity of reefs makes them very dynamic systems that are inherently difficult to study. Therefore, research is a very important component of reef conservation and an additional mission of our group. Our main role is to provide information about ongoing research projects and their findings. We also plan to post data from these studies to foster interest in reefs and provide information that can be independently verified by a variety of people. In addition to our Research section, which provides summaries of ongoing studies, research programs at each reef are additional described under the Coral Reefs section of this site. In some cases, data is available from these studies in the Database area.

The Hawaiian Ahupua'a system as a model for conservation

Hawaiians lived in a sustainable relationship with coral reefs for thousands of years and therefore provide a suitable model for the promotion of reef conservation. Each island was divided into several land divisions, or Ahupua'a, which ran from the high mountains to the sea. Each Ahupua'a was managed independently and the people who lived in them received the benefits and paid the costs of managing their natural resources. In addition, within each Ahupua'a there was a Kahuna, one who had intimate knowledge of the aina and kai (land and sea) and the people were governed by very strict regulations (the Kapu system). In our modern society many of these principles still apply and an additional focus of our mission is to integrate these ideas into (or back into) the community.

By definition the Ahupua'a integrated the management of land and sea, the foundation of modern integrated watershed management (or coastal zone management) methods. The most severe reef impacts, such as pollution and sedimentation, result from poor land use. Therefore, we must manage these resources jointly and consider their relationship in the process. In order to do that effectively we need people that have information about the reefs (and land) and make the local community aware of the benefits that reefs provide and negative impacts they promote. Thus, the keys are education and research: we need to make people aware of the reefs and the impact of human interaction and we also need basic information on reef health. In Hawai'i many areas still have Kahunas and Kapunas (elders) that are tremendous reservoirs of knowledge. We need to conduct oral histories, to make sure this information is shared, and foster community workshops, to get people talking together about reefs. Additionally, we need to foster reef stewardship. Although regulations and enforcement have their place, in general they are ineffective in preventing the chronic, low-level impacts typical of coral reefs.

Reefs and stewardship

We learn from the Hawaiians and many island cultures that the best conservation practice is stewardship: people must assume "ownership," in a broad sense, of their marine resources. That is, people should derive the benefits of their reefs -- the clear water, abundant fish and invertebrates -- but also pay the "costs" of environmental decline. To promote reef stewardship we need to accomplish at least two goals: 1) foster the community relationship with the reef; increase awareness through monitoring and workshops; and 2) empower the community with the information and knowledge to understand the consequences of their actions and to inform others of these consequences. We need to bring everyone together -- the fisherman, surfers, beach-goers, teachers, marine biologists, and governmental resource agencies -- and get them talking and working together on a common problem.

In essence, this is the philosophy behind "Adopt-a-reef" programs where the community is trained in basic monitoring principles, conduct regular reef surveys, and have community meetings to discuss the results. It is exactly these types of activities that the Hawai'i Coral Reef Conservation Group will foster locally and share with the global community. Through our actions we hope to return to a sustainable relationship with our natural resources and have wonderful reefs that our children and our grandchildren can enjoy.

Mahalo nui loa,

Brian Tissot

Last update: 1/25/2005