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Recognized by the EPA and the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau,
Hualalai's Anchialine Ponds are a Paradigm of Hawaiian Aquaculture

Kohala Coast, Hawaii - At Hualalai Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii, visitors experience a true sense of place, one that respects the traditions of the past and is in harmony with the land's natural beauty. As part of a larger vision to reclaim Ka'upulehu's rich fishing tradition and establish cultural and ecological balance, Hualalai Resort has, over the past decade, restored and revived an ancient aquaculture ecosystem.

Under the guidance of David Chai, director of natural resources for Hualalai Resort, the area that was once home to a thriving ancient Hawaiian fishing village has been revitalized in accordance with traditional Hawaiian practices. When Chai began, many of the anchialine (near-the-sea) ponds were overgrown watering holes, filled with mud and alien vegetation. The largest pond called Waiakauhi had only ten to fifteen feet of water exposed, the rest a forest of weeds. Now, the coastal wetland ecosystem is teeming with native plants, fish, and wildlife and is maintained by an environmentally and cost-effective system.

To reach this point, Hualalai's ponds underwent a five-year labor intensive excavation process, with Chai and his team removing alien grasses and shrubs, kiawe (mesquite) and mangrove forests, and seeding the ponds with sediment from existing pristine anchialine ponds. After that, nature took its course: the 'opae 'ula [a tiny shrimp native] and other microfauna returned and helped clean the water and balance the ecosystem, while awa (milkfish) and 'ama 'ama (mullet) solved algae blooms.

Chai restored a complex system of 13 natural anchialine ponds and helped design and construct two man-made aquaculture ponds, consisting of a brackish-water lagoon and a 3-acre seawater pond along the Hualalai Resort golf course, which processes wastewater through "living technology" and serves as a working aquaculture farm. The 1.4 million-gallon self contained King's Pond is one highlight, home to nearly 4,000 fish from eighty to ninety different species, including yellow tangs, butterfly fish, awa (milkfish), nenue (sea chub), manini (convict tangs), hihimanu (spotted eagle-rays) and surgeon fish - perfect for snorkelers looking to experience Hawaii's diverse marine life up close and personal.

The water feature for Hole #5 on the private, Tom Weiskopf-designed Ke`olu Golf Course is another example of the resort's stewardship of the coastal wetland ecosystem. Chai helped develop the 10-foot deep Punawai Pond (which means 'source of spring water' in Hawaiian), a chemical-free, energy efficient and self-sustaining pond that cleans the waste produced through aquaculture operations via floating islands of plants called "restorers". Bacteria and micro-organisms introduced into the root systems and gravel filter the water and remove pollution and excess nutrients. The aquaculture component was integral in the design of the three million gallon pool. Today, Punawai produces hundreds of pounds of Pacific white shrimp yearly, 30 pounds of moi (threadfish) weekly, clams and 'olepe (oysters) for use in all of the resort's restaurants.

Says Chai, "Nothing in nature is wasted. What is waste to one organism is food to another. We use that concept in this type of filtration. Most golf lakes and large ornamental water features require lots of energy and chemicals to keep the water clean and clear of algae. A typical lake of this size used for aquaculture would normally require immense amounts of energy, and cost about $8,000 per month to maintain. We spend less than 10% of that amount in energy costs to maintain Punawai."

In 2005, Punawai received a national award from the Environmental Protection Agency, one of only two awards cited in Hawaii. Hualalai's Natural Resource Department and Chai were recognized for their environmental responsibility and conservation efforts in the development of "The Living Machine," as Punawai is referred to. In 2007, Hualalai Resort's fishpond restoration of historic Waiakauhi received The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau's Lehua Maka Noe Award in recognition of the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaii's culture and history.

The director of natural resources at Hualalai Resort for more than a decade, Chai enjoys his work, not just because it strengthens his ties to his native Hawaiian ancestry, but it allows him to malama 'aina (care for the land) and raise awareness about environmentally and economically sound technology. "We're a resort, but something like this can be easily duplicated in a lot of places," says Chai. "It's really a matter of integrating development with the natural features, wherever you are. It's about taking care of our environment and culture, and knowing that you're trying to do things the right way."

-About Hualalai Resort-

Hualalai at Historic Ka'upulehu on the Big Island of Hawaii is a master-planned residential resort community on 865 acres along the Kona-Kohala Coast. The property offers sweeping ocean and mountain views as well as over one-half mile of white sandy beach. A mix of single-family homes, villas and lots reflect the architecture that recaptures the true essence of classic Hawaiian living. Featured amenities include an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, an 18-hole Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, an award winning spa and fitness center, and the AAA Five-Diamond Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. For more information visit
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