KALAHEO - Two South Shore groups are using recently acquired Kaua'i County Innovation Grants to restore the island, both mauka and makai.
The commercial Kaua'i Sea Farm, which tends the historic Nomilo Fishpond, is promoting aquaculture rooted in Native Hawaiian tradition and contemporary science.
Farther inland, the nonprofit National Tropical Botanical Garden is becoming the first entity on Kaua'i to propagate native fern species from spores.
Mike DeMotta, a NTBG horticulturalist, radiated enthusiasm during a recent tour of the Kalaheo headquarters.
"Typically, people would grown ferns from clonal reproduction, which is taking rhizome cuttings, for example, and just replanting from that - taking divisions, basically," DeMotta explained.
"There are no other nurseries here growing ferns from spores, particularly for the conservation of the native species, some the rarer ones," he continued. "We're the first, and we have to develop the protocols, because no two fern species grow exactly the same."
Ferns play an important role in watersheds by absorbing water and thereby mitigating runoff.
Native ferns now growing at NTBG include palapalai (Microlepia strigosa), hapu'u (Cobotium glaucum) and 'ama'u (Sadleria cyathioides), among many others.
NTBG's top priority is propagation: Partners include the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife will outplant NTBG's native ferns throughout Kaua'i.
The fern specialists have other goals, as well. DeMotta hopes to boost the availability and popularity of native ferns among Kaua'i landscapers, homeowners and gardeners.
Doing so could steer buyers away from non-native species that have proven to be invasive. "The Australian tree fern in the watersheds around the North Shore is a classic example," DeMotta said. "They are dominating areas of the wet forest back in Hanalei and Wainiha." The fern-spore project also boasts a "long-shot" goal. NTBG's $50,000 Innovation Grant will, in part, allow experts to collect spores from decades-old fern specimens held in the center's herbarium. If the experiment's spores prove viable, NTBG could potentially revive Kauai'i fern populations extinct in the wild.
KAUA'I SEA FARM
Less than two miles from the NTBG’s sprawling South Shore headquarters, a much smaller — but no less ambitious — operation is underway.
Kaua‘i Sea Farm’s Nomilo Fishpond is stewarded by Lynn Maile Taylor, husband Thayne Taylor and a small team of employees and partners including Production Manager Dave Anderson.
The farmers’ bywords are “restorative aquaculture,” a term for methods directly benefiting the natural ecosystem around them.
They believe they can help build a better future for Kaua‘i by looking back to time-honored Hawaiian practices.
“We have fish, we’ve got clams and oysters, we’ve got seaweed. We’ve got all these things that naturally occur in the pond,” Thayne Taylor, a lifelong entrepreneur, said.
“To maintain that balance not only helps the pond thrive, but also the fisheries around the coast survive — which in turn helps out other animals as well as the economy of our own island and food security.”
The Taylors’ 18-acre, 25-foot-deep fishpond fills the center of an ancient cinder cone located on the makai side of Kaua‘i Coffee Company’s Kalaheo estate.
Lynn Taylor’s grandfather, Native Hawaiian Philip K. Palama Sr., acquired the property more than 100 years ago when he purchased it from his employer Walter McBride.
Kaua‘i Sea Farm has now spent years restoring the pond’s native ecosystem and traditional infrastructure, while investing in contemporary technology.
Anderson manages a 100% solar-powered facility near the pond’s edge that houses a complex water-filtration system used to cultivate hard clams (Mercenaria mercenaria, raised nowhere else in Hawai‘i), and three varieties of oysters from seed.
A nearby tub contained the remains of a recent limu (seaweed) harvest during a recent visit. And several feet beyond, another open-air tank contained at least two species of sea cucumber, high-demand delicacies with reputations as living water-filtration systems.
Kaua‘i Sea Farm’s $49,213 Innovation Grant, which it earned through a partnership with conservation nonprofit Ho‘omalu Ke Kai, will promote these projects and others.
The Taylors believe the Nomilo Fishpond can become a blueprint for other Hawai‘i growers.
“Moving forward, it can be a real tool bringing a lot of positive things to the island of Kaua‘i besides tourism,” Lynn Taylor said.
“We want to continue to really be part of the community and do the best we can to bring good food and good-paying jobs.”
Dave Anderson, Science Officer & Production Manager helps harvest clams from Nomilo Fishpond.
The owners of a recently restored Kauai
ﬁshpond are setting out to prove that this
cultural resource can also be a money-maker.
Nomilo Fishpond on Kauai’s south shore has been stewarded by generations of the same Hawaiian family since Philip Palama purchased it more than a century ago.
Naturally formed when a dormant volcanic caldera ﬁlled up with water, the pond has seen several iterations since Palama ﬁshed its brackish waters at a time when a meal of ulua, mullet or oysters could be gathered in minutes.
In 1989, Palama’s granddaughter Lynn Maile Taylor and her husband Thayne say they secured the ﬁrst state license to grow shellﬁsh in Hawaii and began to convert the ﬁshpond into what they hoped could be a viable business. In its ﬁrst version, Kauai Sea Farm harvested and sold shellﬁsh to local chefs.
But the couple’s novel business ambitions soon collapsed. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki’s 145-mile-per-hour winds inundated the 60-acre property with debris, clogging critical seawater channels that attract ﬁsh into the pond, circulate the water and help keep the ecosystem clean.
For over 20 years the pond was stagnant. Choked by poor water quality and invasive mangrove, the health of the once-pristine aquaculture system deteriorated into a sludge that could support very little marine life until a new generation of Nomilo heirs cleared rocks and logs from its channels, slowly bringing the ﬁshpond back to life.
Now the Taylors are pushing to be among the ﬁrst to prove that an ancient Hawaiian aquaculture system can turn a proﬁt in modern markets, a mission that’s giving their shellﬁsh business a second act of reinvention.
The privately owned Nomilo Fishpond stood stagnant for decades following the devastation of Hurricane Iniki in 1992. But in recent years the family that stewards the ﬁshpond has brought it back to good health as part of a unique plan to morph the cultural resource into a proﬁtable seafood business.
“Most Hawaiian ﬁshponds are nonproﬁts that are pretty much living oﬀ of grants. And we’re a commercial business,” said Lynn Maile Taylor, who, with her husband Thayne, is resurrecting the Kauai Sea Farm brand name to sell oysters and clams to chefs and consumers.
“It’s kind of a big responsibility, owning a Hawaiian ﬁshpond — and it’s expensive,” she explained. “We want to pass this on to the next generation and the next generation but it gets harder and harder as more people get involved. My vision has always been to ﬁnd a way so that it can support itself ﬁnancially.”
It’s an unusual direction for the stewards of a Hawaiian ﬁshpond to take.
Grant money is the dominant funding source for most of the dozens of active ﬁshpond restoration projects underway across the state. Many of these projects are powered by volunteers who’ve established a nonproﬁt to facilitate the grant-writing process.
But this episodic revenue model poses disadvantages to the longevity of ﬁshpond preservation projects, said Brenda Asuncion, who coordinates a network of more than 50 ﬁshpond restoration projects, including Nomilo Fishpond, through the Oahu-based nonproﬁt Kuaaina Ulu Auamo.
A burst of grant money can be critical to jumpstart a ﬁshpond restoration project, but it can be diﬃcult to secure dedicated, longterm workers when an organization relies on a revenue stream with a ticking expiration date. Grant management can also be burdensome for small organizations.
“I think folks sometimes seriously wonder whether the nonproﬁt model is a longterm option for ﬁshponds,” Asuncion said. “I think a lot of this generation and the younger generation would like to make a livelihood doing ﬁshpond work and want to see opportunities or pathways for them to be able to do that. This commercial venture (at Nomilo) is an example of people trying something new.”
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