by Sharon Higa | Feb. 2, 2021

Feb. 2, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of World Wetlands Day, celebrated to raise awareness of the vital role of wetlands for people and our planet. This year’s theme “Wetlands and Water” brings attention to wetlands as a source of fresh water and encourages actions to restore and stop their loss. For many years, Hawaiian Electric contributed financial or material resources to environmental/cultural organizations in support of their wetland restoration efforts while employees provided hands-on “people power” to help revitalize these important wetlands and watersheds, home to native and endangered flora and fauna. As we mark World Wetlands Day, enjoy these photo highlights from the past decade as we shine a spotlight on some of Oahu’s significant wetlands and the organizations that are helping them thrive.

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Heeia Stream

About 85 volunteers from Hawaiian Electric took part in this 2010 project to restore native Hawaiian vegetation along 2,000 feet of habitat in upper Heeia Stream. This waterway feeds into the Heeia Estuary, which provides habitat for native plants and animals. Volunteers also installed erosion control material to address eroding stream banks and keep the soil out of the water. The workday was organized by Papahana Kuaola and Hui o Koolaupoko in partnership with Hui Ku Maoli Ola.

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Kawainui Marsh and Ulupo Heiau

In 2011, one of our largest volunteer efforts drew 100 Hawaiian Electric employees and their families and friends to Kawainui Marsh and Ulupo Heiau in Windward Oahu. Volunteers helped trim and clear hau and bamboo areas, weed in the loi kalo, and tow hau logs. They also worked in the marsh to construct a log walkway and expand the wetland bird habitat. Kawainui, meaning “great freshwater,” is the largest wetland in the state and provides habitat for the endangered Hawaiian stilt, coot, moorhen, and duck, as well as native marsh plants such as neke fern and uki (sawgrass). Our partners in the workday were Kailua Hawaiian Civic Club and Ahahui Malama i ka Lokahi.

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Pouhala Marsh

More than 60 volunteers from Hawaiian Electric and IBEW Local 1260 partnered with the Hawaii Nature Center and Department of Land & Natural Resources in 2012 to clear invasive mangroves and weeds at Pouhala Marsh, a 70-acre preserve in Ewa. This state waterbird sanctuary is the largest intact wetland in the Pearl Harbor basin.

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Kaala Farm

After a wildfire in Waianae the year prior, in 2013, more than 60 Hawaiian Electric employees and their families and friends came together at Kaala Farm to clean the loi, remove koa haole and skin logs for use to reconstruct Hale Naauao, the center of educational learning activities at the farm’s Cultural Learning Center. In addition, the HEI Charitable Foundation contributed funds to help rebuild the ancient agricultural complex which is a member of the Waianae Mountains Watershed Partnership. Over the past four decades, Kaala Farm has developed expertise in the ancestral knowledge of growing food, managing water resources and bringing people together in a spirit of shared responsibility.

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Keawawa Wetlands and Hawea Heiau

Along with The Trust for Public Land and Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, 40 Hawaiian Electric employees and their families and friends turned out for a day on the land in 2014 at Keawawa Wetlands and Hawea Heiau to uproot invasive shrubs and weeds, replant native species and spread mulch. Located in Hawaii Kai, this spring-fed estuarine wetland offers a rare refuge for native wildlife including the endangered Hawaiian moorhen, black-crowned night heron, and Hawaiian dragonfly.

Heeia Wetlands

In support of the Heeia wetland restoration, 120 Hawaiian Electric employees and their families and friends joined with Kakoo Oiwi in 2015 to clear invasive vegetation, build auwai (canals), weed the loi kalo (taro ponds) and dig/flatten trenches. The muddy work was necessary to help restore agricultural and ecological productivity to this area in the Heeia wetlands and meadowlands. Kakoo Oiwi is a community-based nonprofit with a 38-year lease agreement with HCDA to implement Mahuahua Ai o Hoi which aims to restore currently fallow land into a working agricultural landscape.

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Hakipuu Stream — 2016

A small group of Hawaiian Electric employees joined with Hui o Koolaupoko in the summer of 2016 to remove invasive species from Hakipuu head-water spring area and reforest with native plant species, including 500 sweet potato plants. The plants help reduce the amount of sediment entering Hakipuu Stream and ultimately Kaneohe Bay. The windward-based Hui o Koolaupoko focuses on community-based watershed restoration, implementing on-the-ground projects that directly address watershed and water quality issues.

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Waimea Valley

Thirteen local companies, including Hawaiian Electric, joined with The Trust for Public Land (TPL) in August 2017 to remove invasive species from the ponds and gardens at Waimea Valley on Oahu’s North Shore. TPL, which works to protect land for people, organized “A Day on the Land” to forge community connections to and restoration of Hawaii’s most important lands. Waimea Valley, rich in historic and cultural significance, is also a treasure trove of plant species from around the world. In addition, a small population of the endangered Hawaiian moorhen has begun to flourish here and their habitat expands into new areas of the wetland each year.

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Lua Alaea in Manoa Valley

Hawaiian Electric joined with the Kumuola Foundation in 2018 on a community workday to revitalize Lua Alaea, a living and learning cultural farm nestled deep in Manoa Valley. Volunteers cleared a loi (taro pond), removed vines from gardenia and ti-leaf, replanted ti-leaf, cleared the root area of awa plants and did some weed whacking. Kumuola Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to perpetuating Hawaiian arts and culture.

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Heeia Estuary

Community workdays help maintain Hui o Koolaupoko’s (HOK) existing restoration projects in Windward Oahu, including the Heeia Estuary where Hawaiian Electric employees and their families helped remove invasive mangrove and weeds by hand (no machinery on the mud flats) during a community workday in the summer of 2019 working alongside HOK staff and other volunteers. The Heeia Restoration Project is aimed at improving water quality and increasing habitat for native aquatic animals species.

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Ulupo Nui

Volunteers from Hawaiian Electric, American Savings Bank and parent company HEI joined with the nonprofit Kauluakalana (formerly Hikaalani) on a workday in fall 2019 to revitalize Ulupo Nui, the lands that connect Ulupo heiau to Kawainui pond. Their efforts to remove invasive vegetation, plant fruit trees, native shrubs and ferns, and conduct a fish census, were intended to help bring renewed vitality to the consecrated site that serves as a center of stewardship and cultural learning in Kailua.

Sharon Higa is a senior communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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