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Group restoring Molokai fishponds also builds an office

By Nina Wu

LAST UPDATED: 2:24 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Dozens of youths have been working long and hard hours this month at Alii Fishpond on South Molokai.

Teenagers from the island and Hana High and Elementary School's building program on Maui, Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike, are busy building an office, restrooms, a traditional hale and a performance platform.

The facilities are for Ka Honua Momona ("the fertile land"), a nonprofit group with the mission of being "a model of sustainability mauka a makai."

Ka Honua Momona, which is restoring the Alii and Kalokoeli fishponds a few miles east of Kaunakakai, fosters connections between all aspects of the island ecosystem, including the people and the culture.

"We firmly believe that Molokai can again return to abundance and become a self-sufficient model for all nations," says Ka Honua Momona in its mission statement.

Having recently secured a 35-year lease for both fishponds along with the nearly 1.5 acres of adjacent Hawaiian homestead land, Ka Honua Momona wanted its new office to be sustainable, reflecting its mission, according to Executive Director Kauwila Hanchett. Initially, it was going to be a metal container office with an enclosed overhang, but the group had another vision.

"We don't have many examples of green building in our community," she said.

The Ka Honua facility will use sustainable building materials, composting toilets and a gray water system, with water from the showers and sinks going to irrigate native plants. The group is still raising funds for its solar water and photovoltaic systems, but the plan is to tie into the grid.

There will be plenty of windows to let light in naturally, vertical ventilation, nontoxic paint and a cupola-style roof to keep the office cool.

After doing research, the group decided to go with a pre-packaged "green" building from Deltec and is partnering with the Hana school to construct it.

Once upon a time, Molokai was considered one of the most prosperous of the Hawaiian islands due to the abundance of its fishponds.

Molokai had enough fish to share with others throughout the island chain. It was once known as "aina ma mona," another phrase for fertile land.

Now Molokai is one of the poorest isles, with a higher unemployment rate than elsewhere in the state. But it is also one of the few remaining isles with unspoiled land and no high-rise developments.

Many residents already live a "sustainable" lifestyle without necessarily using that buzzword, Hanchett said.

The fishponds are outdoor classrooms for groups throughout Hawaii, and by removing invasive species and caring for the fish, the group hopes to bring Molokai back to its full potential.

"We're trying to return to that abundance and those values that our kupuna live by as far as being good stewards of the land and caring for our resources," Hanchett said.

She said Hawaiians have always had an innate connection to the sea and land, but unfortunately that bond can sometimes get lost with modern living.

"The challenge is in trying to translate that aloha aina (love for land) to every choice that we make. We already have that love for the land and understanding of that reciprocal relationship. Our goal is to help translate that love for the land to making greener choices."

And on Molokai you can't get away with talking about it without doing it, she said.

Ka Honua Momona is still seeking donations to complete its project. Visit or call 553-8353.

Nina Wu writes about environmental issues. Reach her at 529-4892 or

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