Youth Service Hawaii

Engaging youth as active, compassionate citizens through service and education

Ke Alu Kaiāulu: Connecting Students to Conservation

From March 20th to the 25th, twelve students from across Hawai‘i Island participated in ‘Imi Pono no ka ‘Āina. Through the Three Mountain Alliance watershed partnership, ‘Imi Pono no ka ‘Āina, which translates to seeking excellence for the land, is an environmental place-based enrichment program offered to middle and high schoolers. The program’s mission is to connect students to the landscape while instilling stewardship. This particular session of ‘Imi Pono focused on environmental restoration in the hands of the community.


Pi‘opi‘o na moku o Hilo

The session began at Wailoa Center within the ‘ili kūpono known as Pi‘opi‘o. This year Wailoa is celebrating its 50th Anniversary and has undergone multiple renovations on the lower level of the Center, creating a workspace for artists and other community members. Along with facility renovations, a mural inspired by the place names of Piʻopiʻo is being installed on the new outside walls of Wailoa Center. Students helped in this process by creating their own sketches. For inspiration, students submerged deeper into the place names and mo‘olelo surrounding the area we know as Wailoa.


Lokelani Brandt, an instructor at Hawai‘i Community College, shared with the students the stories of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele and the great reigns’ of ʻUmialīloa and Kamehameha I. Loke described the various loko i’a of the area and the future directions in maintaining its historical significance. Amelia Uribe-Bounos (7th grade) from Ka’ū said, “I liked learning about the different names of Wailoa because I can now pass this information onto others which could have been forgotten.”

Keau‘ohana moku o Puna

The following day students traveled to one of the few remaining native lowland forests in Puna known as Keau‘ohana. They were welcomed by Jaya Dupuis, restoration coordinator for Mālama o Puna. Through invasive species control and native plant restoration, the goal is to help restore over 100 acres of lowland forest. For over ten years, volunteers have aided in these efforts.


‘Imi Pono was able to help with a small portion of the forest by pulling invasive weeds, a major one being waiawī, also known as strawberry guava. Over the years, Jaya has seen many changes within Keau‘ohana especially since Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death has swept through. Dupuis has also observed progression, “It was overwhelming taking this project on, but I can see results of all our efforts.”   

Koholālele na moku o Hāmākua

On the third day, the group journeyed to the moku of Hāmākua to a place known as Koholālele. Here they worked with No‘eau Peralto from Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili (huiMAU). Founded in 2011, huiMAU has been dedicated towards cultivating place-based ancestral knowledge, food sustainability, and the preservation of native ecosystems to help the community of Hāmākua thrive. Among the ironwood and eucalyptus trees, the day was spent clearing sections of thick Guinea grass and planting kalo as well as learning the mea kanu being brought back to the area. Preston Pua-Queja from Ka‘ū said after his experience, “It felt good to help restore the land and know that my grandchildren and their grandchildren will have place to learn about their culture.”  

Waiuli na moku o Hilo

The fourth day was spent at Honokea Loko with Hui Hoʻolei Maluō. Over the last two decades, there has been a revitalization of loko i‘a, or traditional fishponds, across Hawaiʻi. Loko i‘a are a unique aquaculture system and an important component of a healthy ahupua’a providing an abundance of sustainable food resources. The members of Hui Hoʻolei Maluō have been dedicated to the restoration of Honokea Loko at Waiuli. Before the work began, time was spent learning the specific landmarks as well as the names of key components within the loko i‘a, reminding the group about the importance of learning each name, which tells its function or purpose.


The students assembled into lines, lifting rocks from underneath the water, passing them down to build an umu. These organized mounds of rocks allow keiki fish to hide from potential predators. Along with building the umu, the group spent time removing rocks along the ‘auwai, or canal of the loko, which allows seawater to be brought back and forth within Honokea.  


Pi‘opi‘o na moku o Hilo

For the final day of the program, students returned to Wailoa Center. In addition to the new renovations, Wailoa Center is in its initial stage of a community garden project. The group was led by Howard Pe‘a, whose great ancestors were trusted guards of Kamehameha who looked after the loko i‘a of Wailoa. Each student was tasked with a kuleana, by helping prepare huli for each mala kalo or hauling dozens of wheelbarrows filled with lepo, dirt, to the recently cleared garden beds directly outside of the lower level of the Center. Once completed, students circled around each mala kalo and chanted, “E ola 'oe, e ola mākou nei,” acknowledging the interdependent relationship we have with the kalo.      

Get Involved!

Many of the organizations who hosted ‘Imi Pono throughout the week solely rely on volunteers offering monthly and quarterly work days. If interested in becoming a volunteer or want more information on the student program ‘Imi Pono no ka ‘Āina, please visit or email Throughout the summer program, students will travel to natural areas across Hawai‘i Island and learn how to create positive environmental change, becoming stewards of the ‘āina. The application for ‘Imi Pono summer enrichment program is available between February and April for students in grades 6th-12th.     

Mahalo nui loa to the endless efforts of Kamehameha Schools, the Wailoa Center, Howard Pe‘a, Lokelani Brandt and the Hawai‘i Community College, Mālama o Puna, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili, Hui Hoʻolei Maluō and the Three Mountain Alliance.

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