State and local nonprofits gather to plant coral in Kealakekua Bay

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State and local nonprofits partnered Sunday to plant pieces of coral recently broken off during high swells back into Kealakekua Bay.

DLNR and local partners gather to replant coral in Kealakekua Bay on Feb. 25, 2024. Photo courtesy: DLNR

The event was the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources second collaborative coral community-led restoration project Kanu Ko‘a where Hawaiian cultural practices and protocols were practiced as part of the planting.

The partnership of local community nonprofit, Hoʻāla Kealakekua Nui, The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i and Palmyra and the DLNR, organized the Kanu Ko‘a opening ceremony at Kealakekua Bay, which is one of 11 Marine Life Conservation Districts in Hawai‘i.

Lineal descendants of Kealakekua along with The Nature Conservancy and DLNR/DAR divers collected the broken pieces of ko‘a (coral) that otherwise would have died. They brought to shore on waʻa Kinikini (double-hulled canoe) where the team and community members used specialized saws to cut the collected pieces into one-inch fragments.


Divers then took the coral back into the bay and attached them to the reef with epoxy, while community members watched from above.

Ko‘a pieces were planted in clusters, enabling them to grow together into a colony more quickly. All work with ko‘a is being conducted under a Special Activities Permit with DAR and is supported by the descendants and residents.

DLNR and local partners gather to replant coral in Kealakekua Bay on Feb. 25, 2024. Photo courtesy: DLNR

“Strong collaborations like the one we are building here represent our best chance to mitigate the vast and varied issues facing coral reefs in Hawai‘i,” said Chris Teague, a Hawai‘i Island-based DAR Aquatic Biologist. “By focusing on the restoration of corals as the foundation of these important habitats, this hui hopes to not only help rebuild Kealakekua’s coral reefs but to catalyze additional restorative work both here and across Hawai‘i.


“It’s been amazing to see so many people come together to help realize a vision for this bay that lineal descendants, stewards, and stakeholders have been working towards for decades.”

According to DLNR, Sunday’s ceremony emphasized ‘ohana (family) and relationships with ko‘a (corals).

“Hānau ka ‘ukuko‘ako‘a, the worm or coral polyp, emerged from the lipolipo, the constant darkness where all forms begin,” said Shane Akoni Palacat-Nelsen, president of Hoʻāla Kealakekua Nui. “In the cosmogonic genealogy chant Kumulipo, the coral is mentioned as one of the first physical life forms that emerge, alluding that the coral is a foundational entity for all life forms. The ‘ukuko‘ako‘a is the regulator for ecosystems; without it, ecosystems are imbalanced. That’s why when our village received the distressing news that our coral is severely depleted in our bay, we took it very seriously and applied the kumu kānāwai kīhoʻihoʻi—the edict of regeneration—with modern scientific methodologies.”


Hoʻāla Kealakekua Nui has been instrumental in the planning, design, and implementation of the coral restoration project and building local community capacity in Kealakekua Bay. The community has developed a collaborative partnership, called Kapukapu ʻOhana, to work with government agencies, NGOs, researchers, and the community to implement strategies to care for the bay’s rich cultural and natural resources.

Together with the first Kanu Ko‘a, launched at Kahuwai Bay in Kaʻūpūlehu last October, this effort will help to determine the best method for restoring the ko‘a species surrounding Hawaiʻi Island. The next steps include reattaching whole pieces of broken corals as well as growing corals from fragments on an in-water nursery table.

“The Nāpoʻopoʻo Village at Kealakekua Bay, the Kaʻūpūlehu families at Kahuwai Bay in North Kona, and other supporting ‘ohana, our awesome partners, and communities are committed to reestablishing and maintaining our relationship to the coral communities,” Palacat-Nelsen added. “The application of traditional knowledge has recently found its way back into conservation efforts and stewardship of cultural and natural resources.”

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