ʻĀkoʻakoʻa: Coral Restoration Rooted in Hawaiian Legacy

At the heart of the West Hawaii coastline lies a monumental mission: the restoration of precious coral reefs. ʻĀkoʻakoʻa, led by Greg Asner and Arizona State University, is not just a scientific endeavor. It's a profound partnership weaving the traditional wisdom of Hawaiian culture with cutting-edge marine biology. The term 'ʻĀkoʻakoʻa' resonates deeply, symbolizing the assembly of people and the gathering of coral polyps into thriving colonies. Working hand in hand with the Ridge to Reef program, ʻĀkoʻakoʻa ensures harmonious restoration on land and in the sea. From community consultation to nurturing corals at HOST Park, every step holds significance. The true success for ʻĀkoʻakoʻa lies not just in a revived reef, but in empowered communities leading the charge for sustainable futures. This initiative aims to embed the essence of aloha, transforming it from a mere greeting into a beacon of knowledge and stewardship that can be carried across the world.

Greg Asner
Director | ʻĀkoʻakoʻa, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science
Video Transcript

Working on coral restoration is a community-based process. There isn't some scientific pill that we're gonna give to these reefs and suddenly they're gonna come back to life. I'm Greg Asner. I'm the director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. It's part of the Global Futures Laboratory of Arizona State University. 

Here at HOST Park, the ASU role is to drive coral reef restoration. Our primary focus is along this coastline of West Hawaii, which is right next to HOST Park. And it goes from ʻUpolu Point to South Point. The project is focused on not just the science of recovering coral reefs, but the social side of this as well. And because of that, we named this mega project ʻĀkoʻakoʻa. That word came to us from our cultural advisors, and they taught us that ʻĀkoʻakoʻa has a dual meaning in Hawaiian. One is to assemble people, and the other is for coral polyps, the animals themselves to assemble into colonies on the sea floor.

ʻĀkoʻakoʻa as a coral reef restoration program is part of the larger Ridge to Reef restoration program that we are in partnership with other organizations like Terraformation, and that's really getting land-based restoration and coral reef based restoration working in concert. 

When you do coral reef restoration. And when you look at coral reefs, it's a commons place. No one person owns it. Now the management of these reefs falls under the State of Hawaii. So a critical partner for ʻĀkoʻakoʻa is the State of Hawaii's Division of Aquatic Resources. But as we go out like concentric rings, the partnership expands quite fast. So we have other ocean related partners, nonprofits, other universities, and most importantly communities that are really relying on these resources in the ocean. And then as we go on to land, we have partners like Terraformation that help us understand where and how we can have the most impact in restoring land in a way that's gonna benefit the reef. Because the two really are communicating not just culturally, but literally.

Our coral nursery here at HOST Park is a critical part of the entire sort of process that's scientific. None of that works without a very deep, prolonged committed consultation with communities going forward. That includes Hawaiian communities and their cultural base as well as more recent communities and their interests and desires to try to bring their reefs back to life. Coral is the vessel of our process to help communities generate a more sustainable coastline because they're among the most sensitive animals along the coastline, land or sea. So if the corals aren't doing well, then by definition the sustainability of that coastline is not doing well.

Success is gonna look like leaders emerging from communities that are able to carry these processes and being part of this story. The investment is in the people of this place, whether they are multi-generational here or even newcomers, that if you're on an island, you're literally sharing a confined space together. And I think that the long-term sort of outcome is that island life, style, and way is expressing a sustainable path for this place, but also sharing the knowledge of what that looks like anywhere in the world. If we can get to that over the next 10 years, and the story being told is not one of just decline, but one of empowerment, a one of stewardship, one of knowledge, and one of converting aloha just from greeting people to actually teaching those who come here, they might take it away from here and take it to wherever they're from too.

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