Researchers, volunteers collaborate to restore Windward Oahu agricultural forest after 200 years

UH Manoa and Kakoo Oiwi quickly partnered together to transform the area into the agroforest it...
UH Manoa and Kakoo Oiwi quickly partnered together to transform the area into the agroforest it used to be.(UH Manoa)
Published: Jul. 17, 2023 at 9:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After over 200 years, the slopes of Heeia on the windward side of Oahu are becoming a biodiverse agroforest once again, with the help of thousands of community volunteers.

Local organizations, including a UH Manoa research team, Kakoo Oiwi, and the Heeia National Estuarine Research Reserve, also pitched in to help restore the forest.

The restoration work began five years ago when all of the trees at Puulani in Heeia were said to be non-native to Hawaii.

Shortly after, UH Manoa and Kakoo Oiwi quickly partnered together to transform the area into the agroforest it used to be.

An agroforest is made up of trees and shrubs that function as crop systems in order to create environmental, economic, and social benefits. It also provides materials for lei and food.

The agroforest also creates opportunities for community members to access and connect with the world around them.

“It’s pilina,” said Maile Wong, Kakoo Oiwi work day lead and incoming Ph.D. student in UH Manoa’s School of Life Sciences. “It’s connection; connection to the people that come out here, but also connection to this aina and to these plants.”

Before 1778, Puulani had been covered in indigenous agroforests and native forests. Later, the land was used for cattle grazing, which gave way to other non-native trees and plants moving in.

By 2018, when restoration began, Puulani was covered with non-native plants, including Java plum, fiddlewood, and octopus trees.

In a community effort in 2019, a group of over 200 volunteers cleared the non-native forest and planted more than 2,000 native plants of 25 species. The native plants included lei plants, plants used in laau lapaau (traditional Hawaiian medicine), and ceremonial plants.

All but three plants growing in the agroforest are native. The three non-native plants are non-invasive and serve important uses to the Windward community.

While much of the work was done over the past five years, the up-and-coming agroforest must still be maintained regularly.

To maintain the forest, community work days are held monthly. The next volunteer community work day is on Aug. 19 from 9 a.m. to noon.

“The reason why volunteers are important in this work is, of course, there is a restoration component--we’re growing plants, we’re growing food plants, native plants, plants that have medicinal benefits, plants that have cultural benefits,” said UH Sea Grant College Program Assistant Director for Research and Fellowship Maya Walton. “But I think the more important benefit is the benefit to people.”

To find out more information on community work days or to volunteer, click here.