Digging up the future through the past

UH student researching viability of clam cultivation in Molokai’s fishponds

Hawaiians used to cultivate clams in fishponds, but this tradition faded a long time ago. A young Molokai wahine is trying to revive this old subsistence practice by doing scientific research in one of the island’s fishponds.

Nicole Tachibana was “born and raised on Molokai.” She left the island years ago to attend University of Hawaii at Hilo, but her heart never left. When an internship opportunity came up, the marine science major chose a program that would benefit her home-island.

The Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science (PIPES) offered her a chance to research the viability of bivalve cultivation in Molokai’s fishponds. PIPES, a program at the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center (PACRC) at UH Hilo, sent Tachibana to Molokai, where she has done extensive research on clams and oysters in the Keawanui Fishpond.

Tachibana researched books about Molokai’s fishponds, surveyed a few spots, and interviewed some people. “Most people I interviewed said there were a lot (of clams), but not too much anymore,” she said.

But the bulk of her work was physical labor. Armed with a shovel and a plastic basket, she spent several days digging up the mud in the Keawanui Fishpond. “It’s kinda hard,” she said. “I’m by myself everyday.”

While there were lots of shells, she found a species of clam and a species of oyster still alive in the fishpond. She said the clams were possibly of Japanese origin; and the oysters were native, but found elsewhere.

The results of Tachibana’s research can be beneficial for many on Molokai. She said PACRC plans to follow through by attempting to start a bivalve aquaculture on Molokai based on Tachibana’s findings. She is focusing her research on the bivalves in the fishponds, and at the same time assessing native Hawaiian methods of aquaculture.

The PIPES program concentrates in programs related to the study of natural resources of Hawaii and the Pacific region. The program benefits mostly local students, especially those of Hawaiian ancestry.

Walter Ritte, from the Hawaiian Learning Center, and Maria Haws, from PACRC, are Tachibana’s mentors in the project.


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