Meet our newest Pilot Project: Mālama Puʻuloa

Mālama Puʻuloa is an organization that is already doing what the Key app hopes to facilitate. They have inspired their community through actionable steps to create real change in their backyard ecosystem. Mālama Puʻuloa is proof that people really do want to get involved in conservation work, they just need a platform to do so. We are honored to work with an organization that has not only taken into account the ecological impacts their work has, but also how they can help the community and preserve traditional Hawaiian practices. We hope that through the Key app we can enhance what Mālama Puʻuloa is working towards and help them grow even more!

Where are you based?

‘Ewa Beach, Oahu, Hawai’i

Tell us about your organization and the work you do.

We’re best described as a community stewardship org. We’re all members of this community; having lived here or grown up here we recognized needs from problems that we saw in the natural system and people and places that were needing some help. There were gaps in the management and the way that the government was taking care of it. So, we started a nonprofit to fill those gaps and fill the needs that we saw in our community. Right now we have two full time staff, two part time staff, and a ton of volunteers.

Since 2016, we have been engaging community members to participate in workdays to malama (take care of) the shores of West Loch surrounding Kapapapuhi Point park. Through our Mālama Puʻuloa (take care of Pearl Harbor) program, we have engaged thousands of volunteers from the ʻEwa community and surrounding areas to learn about the cultural, historical, and ecological significance of Pearl Harbor; with the goal to restore many of the abundant resources that once fed the island of Oahu. We have found that many of the mo’olelo and traditional names of places of Pearl Harbor are not widely known. The primary threat to biodiversity in Hawaiʻi is invasive species, and since their rapid increase, there has been a decrease in water quality, endangered native birds, and fish. By restoring many of the natural systems from an invasive state to native ecosystems and teaching the community about the importance of the places in their backyard, we can create action to take care of the resources from a community level. In addition, we have been coordinating many of the various agencies and organizations that have a presence in West Loch to facilitate a working network and raise capacity for everyone working towards similar goals in West Loch.

What species and habitat do you work with?

We work in wetlands and shores of Pearl Harbor, in turn our work helps native plant and native fish species. Like ‘Ama’ama, which is a mullet fish that is historically important for the area. We also are creating more habitat for endangered birds like Ae’o, the Hawaiʻian stilt or 'alae 'ula, the Hawai’ian moorehen.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an organization?

The scope of our work and our mission is huge, we have a huge vision of what we see in the area. In the beginning I thought it was an impossible task, just because of the current state. But our founder, Tony, always says: “The impossible is where we start”.

That being said, a big challenge we face is funding so that we can grow and manage that growth as an organization to fill the needs that we have. We didn’t have any money and in three years, and yet, with no financial support and only volunteers, the results have been incredible. We want to be able to get more support and have more financials resources so we can increase our work with communities and partners.

When you encounter a hard day, what motivates you to keep going?

The people I work with are all very dedicated and they care so much about the mission so it’s a very supportive environment. One thing that I really like is that the more I look in the community the more I see people that wanna help. So, what we’re trying to do is provide a platform to be involved. People want to help, we just want to give people a way to help. You can see the change from the work that we do, our vision is very long term but people in the community have already noticed the progress.

Our biggest accomplishment over the past 3 years is we’ve hosted monthly community work days with over 3,000 volunteers. We’ve cleared about 12,000 feet of shoreline of invasive species and marine debris. We’re working with 6 local schools for ‘aina (environmental) based education, teaching them through outdoor classrooms. We’re teaching students about watersheds and integrating traditional knowledge and land management practices. Knowing we have so much support makes even a hard day seem worth it.

You can see some of the progress we’ve made in this story map:

What is one of your favorite stories from the field?

Two weeks ago we had an Eagle Scout project come in and they wanted to help us clear mangrove. One of the scout boys had come to a normal workday and liked it so much he organized his own work day with over 30 volunteers as his Eagle Scout project. It was so great to see that the work that we have been doing has inspired someone so young to bring people himself to do the work as well. Before they came, we had set goals for the day and we weren’t sure we would get it all done; but the Eagle Scouts were able to clear double the amount that they had set out to do!

What made you want to be a Key Conservation Pilot Project?

The work that we do can’t be done alone, so we need a lot of partnerships. There are a lot of things that we don’t know how to do and a lot that we can’t do on our own. So, we need a way to get the word out and the Key app is the perfect way to do that.

What is a project you’re really excited to use the Key App for?

Our current really big project is removing about 5 acres of mangrove that is covering a loko i’a (traditional fish pond). Fishponds were a traditional source of aquaculture and protein to feed a lot of people. Pearl Harbor historically had the highest density of fishponds in the state and now there are pretty much none. We’re now in the process of getting the permits to remove the mangroves. Mangroves are highly invasive in Hawaiʻi and serve as a habitat for other invasive species as well as contribute to water quality problems. Our native ecosystems rely on stream flow and mangroves impede tree stream and cause flooding. Pearl Harbor had a long history of lack of management and neglect. The water quality is really poor, there’s a lot of pollution, and marine debris; it’s not a healthy environment for people to use or eat out of. Our long term goal is to restore Pearl Harbor to a place that you can eat from.

The Key app offers organizations help in three ways: Fundraising, Skilled Impact, and In Person. How would you use these specifically?

Fundraising: We always need weeding tools, loppers, and gloves for our volunteers. I really want a bunch of this particular hand saw that the pros use, but I don’t have $50 each for them right now.

Skilled Impact: We don’t have an instagram yet and we’d love to do a publicity campaign, we really need a marketing and social media pro to help us out.

We also need scientific capacity, specifically a soil hydrologist to tell us more about the hydrology. We are trying to do a wetlands assessment for the Army Corps of Engineers but it is all very technical.

In Person Help: We always need people to come out and volunteer during our monthly work days on Saturday mornings! Our next one is November 16 and after that its December 14. On the low end we have about 25 people and on the high end we have about 100. They’re a super fun time and we all get pizza at the end of the day (thanks Mike!).

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