Fishponds of Kula Kai

The Royal fish ponds of Kula Kai. At least four Loko I’a of the Loko Kuapa (walled) variety were built here on the shallow fringing reef.


Indigenous Watershed Engineering:

The Royal fishponds of Kula Kai have significant cultural and historical value. Fish ponds are called “Loko I’a” in Hawaiian. These ponds are of the “Loko Kuapa” (walled fishpond) style. These were the most labor-intensive type of fish pond to build, sometimes requiring the work of thousands of people. Only the Ali’i could marshal this kind of manpower, so these ponds usually became dedicated to the exclusive use of the ali’i (chief, noble, or king). What is notable in this area is that each pond was originally located across the stream mouth of a separate ahupua’a. Each fishpond was carefully conceived and constructed as part of a planned indigenous watershed infrastructure, that enhanced the natural watershed features. Hawaiians respected and revered nature, and understood natural systems. Wherever possible, they took advantage of natural assets and modified them to their advantage. Each fishpond has at least one corresponding freshwater kahawai (stream, gulch) and a muliwai (wetland, estuary) and was part of an integrated agricultural and aquaculture system for food production and resource management.

Kalepolepo in the nineteenth century (Kolb 1995: 63)
Kalepolepo in the nineteenth century (Kolb 1995: 63)

“This type of setting was selected most frequently for the construction of loko kuapa (walled ponds), due to wave protection provided by the reef and the presence of a shallow shoal area. Kalepolepo Fishpond is significant as a well-preserved example of the technological achievements associated with the development of Hawaiian aquaculture. The fishpond was an economic resource that was important for its subsistence value to the people of the Kula District between approximately AD 1500 and 1880.”

Kalepolepo Fishpond (Ko i’e i’e):

Fishponds are strongly associated with streams (kahawai) and muliwai (wetlands, estuaries). The Kalepolepo fishpond pictured below has no obvious wetland today, because the Menehune Shores hotel was built on top of the wetland. However, the wetland hydrology remains underneath. Springs still flow underneath the ground and into the ocean here. And sometimes when it rains the original Ko’ie’ie Wetland‘s spring can burst out of the ground near the beach and take out a mass of sand. After one particular rain event, it took 50 truckloads of sand to “fill the spring back in”.

Kalepolepo (Ko i’e i’e) Fishpond, in Kula Kai (Kihei)

Here is how Kalepolepo looked in 1963, before the Condo/Hotel Was Built:

The wetlands in the Kalepolepo area in 1963