Photography: Courtesy of John Johnson
Article Written By: Katrina Valcourt, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
Prior to Henry J. Kaiser’s development of Hawai‘i Kai, the area boasted one of the largest fishponds on O‘ahu. Now, only a few fishponds remain on the East Side, including the Kanewai Fishpond, which is fed by a freshwater spring that ancient Hawaiians relied on when they lived in the caves above. The fishpond is connected to Paikō Lagoon, a wildlife sanctuary, which hosts many local and endangered plants and wildlife. The area also has a coconut grove, quarried stone-block walls made without mortar, a fishing shrine and gate systems for catching fish.
What threatens it?
Currently, the nonprofit Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center acts as steward, taking care of the area through an agreement with the landowner. It has spent the past five years cleaning it up, removing trash, overgrowth and invasive species, and bringing in school and community groups to help. “It’s really come to life,” says Chris Cramer, president of the group. But, because it’s now such an attractive area, foreign buyers are looking to purchase the property, which could limit access, education and cultural initiatives, and preservation. Worst-case scenario, new buyers could demolish it, even convert the spring to a swimming-pool area, which would endanger local wildlife.
What can be done?
The Trust for Public Land wants to purchase the complex so it can be restored and preserved in perpetuity. “We are in the process of trying to raise funds to both purchase the Kanewai Spring property and to set Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center up for success as steward,” says Laura Kaakua, Native Lands project manager for the trust. “I think everybody, including the landowner, is very impressed with what Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center has been able to do in turning the spring around … what we’re trying to do is just lock in the property with a purchase agreement. It’s a matter of raising funds in time.” The organization has until next summer to raise approximately $3.3 million from city and state funding and private donations, which would also go toward creating an educational and cultural center on the property. Learn more or donate at kanewaispring.org.