Malama Ola: Hanalei River Hau Bush Maintenance & Cultural Restoration Project

Hoouluulu Pokole (Summary):

Hau Bush removal, Hanalei River Heritage Foundation 2021

Project Malama Ola supports the vision of our community that came together in the aftermath of the April 2018 Floods Kauai to develop a plan to repair and restore wetlands in Hanalei Valley, an Ahupuaa on the North Shore of Kauai. This flood devastated our wetlands in Hanalei and caused long-term damage to the watershed, leaving behind green waste in taro patches, fishponds, irrigation systems, & the river. The floods also devastated critical habitat for endangered species. After the floods, the Hanalei River Heritage Foundation partnered with community to host clean-ups & talk story sessions. After much thought & discussion with kupuna, community leaders, youth & cultural practitioners, we put down our thoughts on paper & came up with Project Malama Ola as an appropriate way to address the impacts of the floods. 

As a first step, the HRHF moved forward with a Hau Bush Maintenance & Cultural Restoration Project to address the overgrowth of Hau Bush on both sides of the Hanalei River.  Project Malama Ola serves as an example project where the Hanalei River Heritage Foundation (HRHF) in partnership with community, showcases the important role that traditional knowledge and modern technology plays in helping with recovery efforts from the numerous natural disaster’s that area of Kauai has experienced. The Hau Bush overgrowth restricts the flow of water, and as the river regularly floods it carries debris from mauka to makai, the narrower waterway results in creation of damns and marshy lands. 

Project Malama Ola provides some jobs for area residents and allow nonprofits like the HRHF to build its capacity to play a role in maintaining the waterways, clearing green waste debris from the river, restoring valuable native ecosystems, and providing a platform to teach others about native plants, history, and culture about Hanalei and Kauai.  The HRHF started Project Malama Ola on April 1, 2021. 

E Ola Ka Aina!  (May the land continue to live & prosper!)


Hanalei River Flooding, 2018

Hoohuli Mea Kalainiau (Impact of Climate Change and Flooding):

The Hanalei River floods the area every year.  The impacts ranges from inconvenience, to students missing school, residents missing work, the complete isolation of the entire North Shore, to flooding the entire town of Hanalei, to massive flood waters carving new paths around and through existing land areas.  To immediately assist in the impact of flooding to the residents of the North Shore, the massive  hau bush engulfing the river banks must be managed.

In particular the 2018 floods were a historic weather event that set national records as a“rain bomb” flooded Kauai with more than 50” inches of rain fell in 24 hours. The North Shore, East Side and Koloa were all affected. The floods devastated several watersheds and their communities on the North & East sides of Kauai.   Communities impacted included all coastal towns along the North & East Shores of Kauai.  The Watershed impact areas include:  wao kanahele (lower forest areas), kula (the plains and farming areas), kahakai (beach areas/coastline), the ‘auwai (irrigation ditches), and kahewai (waterways). 

According to Natural Resource expert, Dr. Kawika Winters, who offers his perspective, “This is the most severe rain event [in Hawaii] that we know about since records started being kept in 1905,” Winter said as he was about to catch a boat from Hanalei to join recovery efforts in Haena. “We’re the most remote community on the North Shore, which is why being cut off is extremely devastating.” Dr. Kawika Winters is active in research related to climate change and community resilience – the ways places recover from unexpected and catastrophic events. 

He goes on the say, “In the Pacific Islands, we don’t have the luxury of debating whether climate change is real,” he said. “Climate change is affecting us, and has been for some time. There are striking similarities with the flooding that we experienced on Kauai and the recent flooding in California. The warmer atmosphere is holding more moisture and that builds up until it meets with cold dry air, creating this massive unstable system, which causes what some meteorologists are now referring to as a ‘rain bomb.'”

E Imi I Ka Pono!  (May we continue to seek out solutions for environmental challenges!)



Hanalei River, early 20th Century. Credit: Brother Bertram,


Ike Kupuna (Historical Background):

According to kupuna from the area, the hau bush has not been regularly maintained since Hawaii became a State in 1959. As evident in the above pictures from the early 20th century, hau bush was historically maintained and thinned along the riverbank.

Konohiki (cultural overseers/practitioners) and Kamaaina (residents) have been direct observations of the watershed for years and have experienced countless peculiar weather events. After each weather event, the community gathers and we help each other to restore taro patches, irrigation ditches, trails, and dirt roads in the rural areas of the Ahupuaa. However, the most recent flood in April 2018 was considered by some experts to be a “100 year” flood, and the amount of damage to the watershed was significant.  

According to Natural Resource expert, Dr. Kawika Winters, along with other researchers on the topic of climate change in the Pacific, also assert that whatever plans we draw up to address restoration and repair work in the watershed should take a holistic approach that includes solutions from both traditional knowledge systems and western science. It has been 3 years plus since the “rain bomb” and there are still many of our beloved Moku of Halelea Ohana who are still suffering from the impacts of these floods. According to experts there will be long-lasting negative impacts to our economy, especially for traditional family farmers, fishermen, and others who are engaged in taking care of our natural and cultural resources in the watershed. Fallen trees & green waste debris still continue to dominate the landscape in streams and beaches; the stream banks suffer from erosion & large rocks block the natural flow of water in the stream and river mouth.  

Our ancestors understood the complex web of life that was their island home. Their sustainable society, living in harmony with their environment for over 1,000 years, is unique in all of human history. This proposed pilot hau bush maintenance project will afford the opportunity to revive Hawaiian ancient wisdom, combine modern technology, utilize a viable workforce, support a government initiative, and guard against  subsequent floods while building a modern day Ahupuaa system.

E Ola Na Leo Kupuna (May the voice of our ancestors continue to be heard!)


Na Mahele Malama Ola (Components of Project Malama Ola)

Hau Bush removal, Hanalei River Heritage Foundation 2021

  • Hau Bush Maintenance

The hau bush as well as all materials retrieved from the Hanalei River are chipped and mulched on site.  The HRHF utilizes Best Management Practices, including a silt/debris boom deployed from the Western to Eastern side of the Hanalei River to contain loose material.  We incorporate CV19 safety protocols as outlined in various natural disaster plans to keep everyone health and safe.  

Work is led by Art Mersburg and Jackie Correa, who both have expertise in large scale cultural landscape management.  The Plan requires both mechanized and manual labor to clear the hau bush, logs, and other green waste debris from the Hanalei River.  Machinery, including boom trucks, excavators, chain saws, and chippers will be deployed along the river bank for cutting, hauling, removal, and chipping, but the machines will NOT TOUCH the water.  Any work on the Hanalei River will be “by-hand” work only, and will consist of slinging/cabling debris and is not contained by the silt/debris boom.  Equipment is being leased to the project at “no-cost”, allowing for significant cost savings. 

  • Cultural Restoration

HRHF (Kamealoha Smith) is collecting data regarding the impacts of conducting hau bush maintenance on the river ecosystem and wetland environment.  Inventory and assessment of natural and cultural resources is also a part of the process. The goal is to eventually write a community-based, traditional knowledge-driven, Cultural Resource Management Plan

Information collected from this project will be used to develop educational materials in Hawaiian and English for area schools and outreach programs.  We also plan to partner with conservationists, and science researchers to collect data that is helpful to documenting the positive changes to the environment.

  • Stream Bank Restoration

Project Malama Ola will improve the mauka to makai (mountain to ocean) connectivity of habitat in Hanalei River for native and endemic aquatic fauna; as we move forward we are identifying areas along the Hanalei River to replace some of the troubled areas with native wetland plants appropriate for the riverbank.  According to a study about hau bush removal in Kahana Valley, Oahu in 2017, 

“river corridor restores the natural water flow (hydrologic) and supports a healthy river environment  which includes: a) the widening of the stream channel, b) reduced canopy cover to support algae growth, and a replacement of sediment and leaf litter with cobble and gravel substrate. These benefits all support fish habitat and fish passage.” 

From a native world view, the improved river environment will also improve relationships between kanaka (man) and aina (nature).  The HRHF is planning Aloha Aina Workdays in 2021-2022.  Aloha Aina workdays will include some education, instruction, green waste debris removal, and planting of appropriate native plants in areas where hau bush is removed.

Ku Kiai Aina Mau A Mau! (Let us continue to stand as stewards of the land!)


Hanalei River, 2020

Hanalei River, early 20th Century. Credit: Brother Bertram,


Na Puke, Moolelo, Ike, a Artikala I kokua ia no keia papahana nei:

(Helpful resources for this project.)  

The HRHF is building a bibliography to analyze resources that may be helpful to our project.  The following reflects some of the resources we have consulted for Malama Ola.  We update this bibliography on a regular basis. 


Na Puke/Moolelo Hawaii i Kokua Ia:

(Helpful Hawaiian stories & books to this project.)

Akamine, Kalama Kalanihekili, Puanani Fernandez-Akamine, Leinaala Kaina, & L. Keala Kwan, translated by Aunty Sarah Nokoa (1988).  Kupu, He Mau Moolelo No Ke Au Hou (Stories For a New Era).  Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Akaa, Collette Leimoni with Kiele Gonzalez (2015).  HANAU KA UA (HAWAIIAN RAIN NAMES). Kamehameha Publishing, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Alameida, Roy Kakulu (1997). Na Makani O Ka Mokupuni (Compilation). Hawaiian Studies Institute, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Arista, Noelani, Mary Kawena Pukui, & Kepelino (2007).  Kepelino’s Traditions of Hawaii.  Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Malo, David, translated from Hawaiian to English by Dr. Nathaniel B. Emerson, 1898 (1951).  Hawaiian Antiquities (MOOLELO HAWAII).  Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Poepoe, Kamalu (2008). IMI IKE (Cycles and Hawaiian Traditions).  Pacific American Foundation & Hui Malama O Moomomi, Honolulu, Oahu (information collected from Hui Malama O Moomomi at Moomomi, Molokai.


Na Artikala I Kokua Ia:

(Helpful Articles/Research for this project)  

Goodyear-Kaopua, Noelani (2009).  REBUILDING THE ‘AUWAI: Connecting ecology, economy and education in Hawaiian schools.  Alternative Volume 5, Number 2, 2009, New Zealand. 

Hanohano Pa-Smith, Patrick S.K. (2018).  Kamaka Opio Youth Watershed Training /Stewardship Program.  Hanalei River Heritage Foundation, Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii. 

Kurashima, Natalie, Kawika B. Winter, Kamanamaikalani Beamer, Mehana Blaich Vaughan, Alan M. Friedlander, Mike H. Kido, A. Nāmaka Whitehead, Malia K.H. Akutagawa, Matthew Paul Lucas, & Ben Nyberg (2018).  “The Moku System: Managing Biocultural Resources for Abundance within Social-Ecological Regions in Hawaiʻi,” Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(10), pages 1-19, October.

Kurashima, Natalie & others (2021).  Empowering Indigenous agency through community-driven collaborative management to achieve effective conservation: Hawai‘i as an example. Journal compilation, CSIRO, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia. 

Luck, Addison (2019).  Giving “River Rights” to the Hanalei River (Kaua’i, Hawai’i) for EVST424; Rivers: Nature and Politics, Fall 2019 class at Yale University (Professor James C. Scott).  New Haven, Connecticut. 

Watson, Trisha Kehaulani (2012). Aloha Aina: A Framework for Biocultural Resource Management in Hawaii’s Anthropogenic Ecosystem.  Proceedings from a Technical Expert Workshop: Organized by the Native Hawaiian & Research Committees of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Council, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

I Mana Ka Olelo!  (Mana exists in the use of words & phrases!)


Leo Mahalo (Thank you to all the supporters!):

Marshallese Association of Kauai                                   Malama Anahola                               Hoomana Nonprofit                    Bernard P. Carvalho          

Reef Guardians                                                                   Halau Lei Kukui Hiilani                   Felicia Cowden                             Addison Luck                                  

Art Kapuaonaona Mersberg                                             Jackie K. Correa                                Aha Moku Kauai