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Kokua Initiative: Pacific Aquaculture in Hawai'i

Aquaculture is expected to provide almost two-thirds of the fish intended for global consumption by 2030.1 With this as a rapidly growing sector of agriculture, it plays a big role in food supply, preserving fish populations, and conserves our oceans and waterways. The Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center is one of the aquaculture facilities globally working towards developing aquaculture methods and educating marine biology students and the community about sustainable management of Hawai'i's natural resources.


Aquaculture involves the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of freshwater and marine species of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants, in controlled aquatic environments like oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams.2 It serves different purposes including:

  • Food production
  • Restoration of endangered species populations
  • Wild stock population enhancement
  • Building of aquariums
  • Fish cultures and habitat restoration

Because 70% of the world's surface is covered in water, we have realized its importance as a resource and the responsibility to protect it. There are many types of aquaculture, but as a whole, it presents a myriad of both economic and environmental benefits2:

Economic benefits:

Environmental benefits:

  • Alternative food source
  • Alternative fuel source
  • Increase jobs on the market
  • Reduces seafood trade deficit
  • Creates barrier against pollution
  • Reduces fishing pressure on wild stock
  • Reduced environmental disturbance
  • Increases efficiency, more resources for less effort


Unfortunately, wild fish stocks around the world have been devastated by pollution and overfishing, so aquaculture now produces 50% of fish and seafood eaten globally. Additionally, industrial fish farms pollute waterways with waste, incubate diseases that can spread to the remaining wild fish stocks, and foster massive overuse of antibiotics. Aquaculture in Hawai'i is especially important because of its ancient history with aquaculture practices. Even though Hawai'i is a community of islands, the state now imports half of its seafood. Hawai'i has a history of age-old aquaculture, so scientists and activists are working to restore this as a more sustainable model, inspired by the wisdom of ancient Hawaiians who implemented the system initially3

The Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center is a coastal site for Keaukaha on the Big Island, adjacent to the Port of Hilo. What once was a wastewater treatment plant, PACRC now focuses on marine ornamental, foodfish culture, and the cultivation of oysters.

The Native Hawaiian Oyster Project is one of the many initiatives the PACRC works on. The goal is to produce native oysters and transport them into Kaneohe Bay and Pearl Harbor for restoration. Replenishing native oyster populations aid in water quality and clarity remediation. About 80% of the Island's coastal waters are "impaired," meaning they do not meet water quality standards, due to human habitation and agriculture runoff–the primary consequence of chemical contaminants in the ocean is an overgrowth of algae. The PACRC is working on raising Native, Pacific, and Pearl Oysters. As filter feeders, each oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day and remove excess nutrients, sediments, and algae. PACRC's research trials in Hilo Bay aim to harness this potential to restore the health of the marine ecosystem. With the millions of oysters they aim to grow, this will significantly help clean up the local waterways.

After cycling the "clean up" oysters in a depuration tank for 72 hours, they will be clear of any heavy metals and other contaminants and will be safe to eat. Pearl Oysters will open up another field of work that will, in turn, help boost the local economy.

A partner project with PACRC, the Hilo Aquaculture Cooperative is a community cooperative with a research farm set up in Hilo Bay, Hawai'i. The purpose is to involve community members in aquaculture practices, such as oyster fattening and propagation. It was great being able to work with them and learn about what they do!

"It was definitely perfect to have help with setting up some new projects. I encourage you guys to continue reaching out and volunteering in this field. It seems like the whole team was engaged and excited to get their hands on some work." -Marni

The Waiakea team volunteered at PACRC for a day of education and clean-up. Starting with a tour around the facility, Marni from PACRC showed the team their aquaponics garden, explaining how the pump operates and its purpose. The pump runs fish tank water to the garden bed, where the ammonia is filtered by the plant media, and makes its way back into the fish tank. The team worked on cleaning out the overgrown aquaponic garden to make room for vegetables, building out a frame to support new fish tanks, sanding down new oyster beds to prepare for more oyster farming, and scrubbing the inside of an above-ground fish pond to make room for a new fish bed and the oyster touch tank.

"Volunteering with the PACRC Hilo Aquaculture Cooperative was a fun opportunity and a great learning experience and I would love to come back again!" -Kawika, Waiakea Team Member

If you'd like to donate or are located on the Big Island and would love to volunteer, you can contact the Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resources Center via email at haws@hawaii.edu or phone at (808) 933-3289. 



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