Environmental Conservation


ʻĀina Momona, meaning rich, abundant, fertile lands which sustain life. ʻĀina momona brings to mind clean freshwater, thriving crops, rich fisheries, and healthy people. It is a way of being which emphasizes the connectedness of kanaka (humans) in the landscape. Hui Aloha Kīholo commits to relating with Kīholo in ways that are, were, and will continue to result in ʻāina momona.

Kiholo Bay Kona_Hui Aloha Kiholo

Loko Wai

Loko wai is a general term for a freshwater pool, pond or lake. Kīholo is adorned with different varieties of freshwater pools. Traditionally, certain loko wai had distinguished functions, for example, some were used only for drinking, others for washing clothes, and then there were ones you didnʻt touch at all. Imagine traveling this hot and dry coast, where there are no above ground streams, and then arriving at a loko wai. These loko wai were and are prized and beloved features.

Entering loko wai is respectfully discouraged. Instead if you are in need of fresh water we suggest lowering a bucket into the pool and using it to rinse on the side. Please do not use pools for bathing with shampoo and soap when camping, or pollute them with items such as sunscreen, detergents from clothing or other chemicals.

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Perhaps one of the most visited places in Kīholo is Keanalele, which is also often incorrectly referred to as Queenʻs Bath. Keanalele is a cave opening in pahoehoe lava rock into Kīholos subterranean aquifer through which fresh water passes on its journey from mauka to makai. Seasonally, families of this region would take up residence at Kīholo, and looked to Keanalele as a drinking water source.

No one entered Keanalele, or swam in it. Rather, when water was needed, a bucket or other container was used to scoop water out. This act maintained the purity of the water for future use as well as the highly specialized ecosystem that supports many living organisms. Keanalele is a place to be revered for its ability to give fresh water! To give life! Ola!

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Today, Keanalele is continually degraded by careless use. People choose to enter with sunscreen, bug spray, soap, shampoo, etc., contaminating this water such that none should drink it. Others go further, seeing Keanalele as a place of recreation - to consume alcohol, swim, and amass together in groups.

We must remember that contaminated waters within Keanalele not only inhibit the life sustaining relationship the people of this place have maintained for generations, but that same water continues out to the ocean, adding those contaminants to the nearshore estuary. Estuaries are the home of many immature or baby fish, including prime eating species. Polluting Keanalele pollutes the habitats we need most to sustain our fisheries, our food sources, and our island lifestyles.


Wai ʻŌpae - Anchialine Pools

Kīholo is also home to a special type of fresh water pool called wai ʻōpae, or anchialine pool. Wai ʻōpae are coastal water bodies containing both subterranean freshwater and saltwater inputs. Healthy wai ʻōpae are home to two species of Hawaiʻi’s tiny endemic red shrimp, ʻōpae ula, which graze down micro and macro algae to keep the pools open and clear, as well as six species of endemic damselflies, all of which are listed as Candidates under the Endangered Species Act. The fringes of wai ʻōpae are also home to certain prized native and culturally significant plants such as makaloa (Syperus laevigatus), ʻilima (Sida species), niu (coconut), ʻākulikuli (sesuvium portulacastrum), and ahuʻawa (Cyperus javanicus).

Very few species naturally inhabit these pools, so one of the severe and wide spread threats to wai ʻōpae are introduced fish and vegetation. Once fish such as talapia or guppies invade the pool they prey upon ʻōpae ula and elevate nutrient levels with their feces, resulting in algal blooms and sedimentation. Additionally, many wai ʻōpae are connected underground, meaning that invasive fish placed in one pool are likely to spread to others. Everyone can kōkua (help) by remembering that wai ʻōpae are delicate ecosystems, extremely vulnerable to invasive species, and moving species from one open place to another, even in bait buckets, risks altering the function and balance of that ecosystem.

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At the southern end of Kīholo bay lie two naturally occurring anchialine pools, or wai ʻōpae. These pools carry the name Waiaʻelepī, which may be interpreted as “waters of the ʻelepī (crab)”.

Many Waimea and North Kona ranching families frequented Kīholo in the late 1800s and early 1900s as the coastal destination for their cattle drives. They built rock wall holding pens for cattle next to Waiaelepi, which was used as a watering place prior to hoʻau pipi, the swimming of cattle to ships, for exportation to off island markets.

Kiholo Bay Restoration Fishing

Today the Waia’elepi ponds remain, as do the rock walls of the historic cattle pens. Sadly, since that time many foreign species have been released into and around the ponds, such as mosquito fish, talapia, mollies, and guppies. Mosquito fish are predators which predate on ‘opae ‘ula, and the combined excrement from all species increase the nutrient levels and add sediment to the substrate. Other more recent introduced species include snapping turtles and bullfrogs. The sediment deposited on pool substrate is increased by overhanging vegetation, covering and blocking fresh water springs, creating saltier, and warmer water temperatures. In combination, the addition of foreign species into and around the ponds have caused a shift in the functioning of the ponds, and in one pond, the shift was such that ‘opae ‘ula are no longer present.

Annually, schools and community groups volunteer at Waia’elepi, helping to remove overgrown vegetation from around the pond edge and capture and remove invasive species. Using handheld nets, literally tens of thousands of invasive fish can be removed in each effort.

Hui Aloha Kīholo also is part of a Statewide network of fishpond and anchialine pool practitioners called Hui Malama Loko I’a, as well as the smaller islandwide network, Hui Loko. This learning group shares trials, successes, and learning lessons with each other to increase our collective ability to restore these very special ecosystems.

We appreciate everyone's positive contributions to Waia‘elepi's health and our on-going restoration efforts.

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We do not encourage entering any cave at any time.

While lava tubes are technically a geological feature, they become archaeologically and culturally significant when they show signs of pre-contact use by native Hawaiians. Cultural and archaeological research has documented lava caves within Kīholo State Park. Not only are these caves known to be very important cultural sites to the lineal descendants of Kīholo, but they are also very important ecologically. Many visitors don’t understand that these caves often contain iwi (burials), artifacts, drinking water, and many biological species that are sensitive to human impact. It is common to find on social media, people posting pictures and directions to encourage others to locate these caves. These naïve exploration practices and curiosity leads to the disturbance of cultural and biological resources.

Caves are protected by State law. It is illegal to enter a cave without the landowner’s prior written consent. Hui Aloha Kīholo works closely with the State of Hawaiʻi’s Division of Conservation And Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) to protect Kīholo’s caves. Fines of up to $30,000 and criminal penalties may apply to violations.


Waiakaʻeu is one of Hui Aloha Kīholo’s restoration sites fenced off from invasive goats. The goal is to remove invasive plants and propagate native plants to be used as a seed bank, for education, and cultural practitioners. Learn about the naming of Waiakaʻeu on our blog.