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Tradition of Adaptive Management

Community Contributed

By Aha Kiole O Molokai

When it comes to the land and ocean, we are aware that laws have been created and maintained by the State of Hawaii, with the intent to help regulate the usage and continuity of the resources. It has become evident that the management system long-used in Hawaii has not served to keep Hawaii’s resources healthy and abundant. One of the key differences between our current state practices and traditional Hawaiian resource practices — and why the system of the past worked — is that each island and moku division based their management decisions on the environmental conditions of their own areas. The consumption of natural products correlated specifically with what was available in each place. Management included careful observation and planning associated with species lifecycles and habitats. This insured the long-term availability of resources to meet the needs of the people. Our kupuna were brilliant in the way they balanced their supply to consistently meet their demands.

Our state has a “one-size-fits-all” method of usage regulation which, for certain species, may work well in one area but not necessarily in another. There may be a regulation allowing unlimited gathering of a species such as lobster or hinahina that is abundant in one place, but experiencing critical shortages or depletion somewhere else. Similarly, there may be a cookie-cutter restriction placed on a species, such as the honu, whose overpopulation in a certain moku is causing an imbalance to the ecosystem.

The term we use today for the place-based approach applied by traditional Hawaiian konohiki, or caretakers, is “adaptive management.” In this approach, managers continuously take stock of the populations and well-being of all species collectively within an ecosystem, because all parts contribute to the balance of the whole.

There has been a marked interest in many communities to explore adaptive management possibilities. It is a system that would require the help and monitoring by community members themselves since it is a localized effort. On Molokai, an adaptive management program would be beneficial because each moku would be able to take stock of what they have and adjust gathering to insure the continuous availability of the resource. If, for example, there was a decrease in the kole population at Pala`au, the community would be able to notify each other to cut back on catch until the numbers recovered. Adaptive management has been practiced in the Pala`au moku at Mo`omomi for a number of years. Molokai’s community-managed system at Mo`omomi is one-of-a-kind, and viewed by law makers, scientists and other Hawaiian communities as a success, and it is the hallmark of many pilot programs in other communities in Hawaii hoping to establish the same best practices Molokai has begun. A program such as this would require monitoring by community members, the participation of the local people of the area, and the respect of those outside the area for the conservation plan of the moku. It begins with one step at a time. For Molokai, all of our moku can keep their areas abundant with the traditional Hawaiian practice of adaptive management.


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