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Conservation through Education

With a little talk-story and reef-friendly sunscreen, a team of Kona volunteers is working to protect Kahalu‘u Bay’s precious resources, one visitor at a time.

Conservation through Education

Kahalu‘u Bay, on the Kona coast, is one of Hawai‘i’s most beloved ocean destinations, with spectacular snorkeling and an incredible assortment of coral reefs and fish populations. But its popularity has started to threaten this abundance of resources, after decades of heavy use by visitors.

To help protect and regenerate the health of the bay, the Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center (KBEC), a program of the nonprofit Kohala Center, has since 2011 not only been working to monitor and manage the health of the beach, but also staffing the beach with ReefTeach volunteers who help share helpful information with everyone who comes to use the beach.

If it’s a visitor’s first time at the bay, a ReefTeacher will come up to say aloha, offer some free reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreen, and give a quick tour showing where it’s safe to stand and where swimmers should float to avoid damaging delicate live coral. No scoldings, just some friendly talk-story to help get newcomers up to speed on how to treat Kahalu‘u Bay kindly.

“The volunteers are there every day educating the visitors with aloha. And that’s the key, that you show aloha, and make the visitor feel welcome,” says Cindi Punihaole, KBEC project director.

Punihaole says many of her volunteers are Kona residents, and the work they’re doing to protect Kahalu‘u Bay has given them a real sense of responsibility and stewardship. “It’s really empowered them.” she says. “They’re part of the ‘ohana, the team, and their input is so valuable to what we’re doing.”

KBEC’s efforts are partially funded by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, through its Aloha ‘Āina program, which supports community organizations that manage, preserve, and regenerate Hawai‘i’s natural resources and environment.

Kēhau Meyer of the Hawai‘I Community Foundation, which administers the HTA’s Aloha ‘Āina funding, calls the Kahalu‘u Bay program a great model for protecting beaches and other special places throughout Hawai‘i.

“This program is building in a sense of place to its community, and giving this kuleana (responsibility) of caring for the place to those who come be a part of it, whether it’s a new resident or a multigenerational resident,” she says. “It’s really working.”

Earlier this year, Kahalu’u Bay was named as a Hope Spot by Mission Blue, a global coalition advocating for a worldwide network of marine protected areas. This is a prestigious designation that puts the bay in the company of conservation areas like the Azores Archipelago and the Galapagos Islands, bringing awareness and support from around the globe.

Punihaole says, “There’s so much that can be done when your community is engaged with the health of this place. It’s exciting to see.”

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