Hawaii Island Man Wins Prestigious Environmental Award from EPA

David Chai
David Chai

HUALALAI, Hawaii (KHNL)- The Environmental Protection Agency honors a Hawaii Island man for a technological innovation that not only keeps Hawaii green, but does it inexpensively. Biologist David Chai adapted something called "living technology" to aquaculture, and the result is an environmentally friendly fishpond.

When Hualalai Resort asked its director of natural resources to create a water feature for the new golf course in 2001, it had a tall order to fill. "It had to look good, but we also wanted it to have a purpose so we wanted to raise fish in this pond and supply the restaurants and staff with fresh seafood," recalls Chai, who created the 2.5-acre Punawai Pond along the fairways of the Hualalai Golf Course's fifth hole.

On top of that, Chai wanted to try out something called living technology. "It's using nature or natural system to do the world that we need done especially in filtration and recycling waste." Floating islands of native plants naturally clean the water.

The technology used here was developed by another company, Natural Systems International, (www.natsys-inc.com) for treating sewage. "It's also used as a prototype in the Ala Wai Canal on Oahu to help clean it up. This technology is perfect for wastewater treatment. It uses nature to solve a lot of problems we have at low energy cost."

Erin English, Project Engineer at Natural Systems International confirms, "We are indeed peripherally involved with the Ala Wai Canal (the floating demonstration project with 'Restorers') project; we worked with a local Hawaiian firm on that design. We also have a constructed wetlands/lagoon system at a locally-owned cooperative slaughterhouse located in the Campbell Industrial Park. At the moment we are designing two other systems - one on Maui and one on Kauai. All of these projects are done alongside, or in some form of cooperation with associates of ours that are based on Oahu."

The living technology in Punawai Pond is used for aquaculture. Chai was the first in the state - possibly the nation- to adapt this technology for this purpose. Because Punawai Pond grows shrimp (15 to 20 pounds of Pacific white shrimp a week!), moi, clams, and oysters for its resort restaurants, it does not process sewage in this pond. But the technology is the same.

"Nothing in nature is wasted. What's waste to one organism is food to another. We use that concept in this type of filtration," explains Chai. Two islands filter the entire lake. It's cheap compared to a traditional pump system.

"I'd be spending thousands of dollars in energy every month to run the pumps. We spend abut $400 to operate this system here." Chai believes in living technology, and hopes others will use it, too. "It's not well known and widely accepted yet but I think this is a perfect adaptation for third world countries, especially where energy costs are expensive."

Chai wants to raise community awareness about living technology, so he gives tours and talks to resort guests and students. If you'd like to get in touch with Chai, reach him at Hualalai Resort at 808-325-8000.