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Program unites science and community efforts to restore reefs

Global Goals & Global Society
Program unites science and community efforts to restore reefs

The enchanting coral reefs off the west coast of Hawai‘i's Big Island, which have been deteriorating over the past five decades, are set to receive a new lease on life through a collaborative initiative called Ākoʻakoʻa. This program aims to restore 193 kilometers (120 miles) of coral reefs by combining scientific research with traditional knowledge and community participation, fostering the resilience of reef communities for the future.

Anthropogenic pressures, including pollution, overfishing, and the impacts of climate change, have contributed to the rapid decline of Hawai‘i's corals, echoing a global trend. To address this ecological crisis, the Arizona State University (ASU) will lead the Ākoʻakoʻa initiative, utilizing a $25 million funding pool dedicated to researching, conserving, and restoring degraded corals. A pivotal aspect of the program involves establishing a state-of-the-art research and coral propagation facility in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. This facility will serve as a hub for scientific inquiries into coral health and the cultivation of new corals for restoration purposes.

The Ākoʻakoʻa program will be spearheaded by Greg Asner, director of ASU's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, who brings extensive expertise from founding the Pacific Ridge to Reef Program in 1998. Asner and his team employed advanced satellite, airborne, and field technologies to diagnose land and reef issues.

While scientific research forms the foundation of Ākoʻakoʻa, the program recognizes the value of traditional knowledge held by community leaders and cultural practitioners. By integrating indigenous wisdom with scientific advancements, the initiative seeks to ensure a holistic approach to reef restoration.

Cindi Punihaole, a native Hawaiian from Kona and director of the Kohala Center, a community-based nonprofit focusing on research, education, and stewardship, emphasizes the ancestral understanding of the interconnectedness between land and sea. She emphasizes the importance of "Mālama I Ka ʻĀina" or caring for and respecting the land, as it directly influences the well-being of coral and marine life. Punihaole emphasizes the vision of a balanced and just world where healthy land and clean water nurture flourishing corals and fish populations.

The Ākoʻakoʻa program has received significant support from the Dorrance family and Dorrance Family Foundation, as well as funding from the Hawai‘i state's Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and ASU. These partnerships highlight the recognition that the health of the planet is intrinsically tied to the well-being of interconnected systems.

Michael Crow, president of ASU, underlines the importance of collaboration between scientific knowledge and cultural wisdom to address pressing global challenges. Acknowledging the interdependence between land and oceans, Crow emphasizes that threats to coral reefs impact everyone, making the collaboration between science and community crucial in accelerating positive change.

The Ākoʻakoʻa program exemplifies the commitment to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 14 (Life Below Water), by focusing on conserving and sustainably using marine resources. Additionally, it aligns with SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) by promoting collaboration between different stakeholders, including civil society, to achieve shared objectives.

As the Ākoʻakoʻa program commences its journey towards restoring and preserving the precious Hawaiian reefs, it offers hope for a more sustainable future where scientific advancements and cultural traditions intertwine to protect and restore our planet's invaluable ecosystems.

Youtube credits: @arizonastateuniversity


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