Preserving a Sacred Punawai (Spring)

Pristine water of Kanewai Spring
In the middle of a bustling and highly populated area in East Honolulu, there lies one of the last freshwater springs that feed an intact, ancient Hawaiian fishpond. Kanewai spring lies in the neighborhood of Kuliou`ou just past Aina Haina on the way to Hawaii Kai. It is located on busy Kalanianaole Highway, adjacent to the Paiko Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary in Maunalua Bay. Thousands of vehicles pass this gem of a natural resource every day not knowing of its existence as it sits hidden behind a seven-foot high cinder block wall. This “Oasis” in the midst of an urbanized jungle is in danger of being lost to development and privatization.
The spring is on a piece of land that has been in limbo for over 30 years. In the 80’s, then owner Ron Rewald used the property the spring is on, as a lavish estate to entertain many extravagant parties. He was subsequently convicted of conspiracy and fraud and sent to prison, losing the property to foreclosure. There were numerous owners throughout the years and it fell into disrepair. As it slipped into obscurity behind the wall, a homeless encampment took hold at the spring. New owners took over the property after it was foreclosed on during the early 90’s when Kalanianaole Highway was being widened to accommodate 6 lanes of traffic, with intentions of rebuilding a new oceanfront, luxury home.
Back in the 1700’s, the area that is now called Hawaii Kai and Koko Marina was known as Kuapa. Kuapa was home to the largest fishpond system in all of Polynesia and helped feed the Hawaiians of the past.
Kanewai Fishpond, Kuliou’ou 1935
Massive amounts of Mullet, Moi and Awa were aqua farmed in a series of fishponds in Maunalua Bay that stretched from Diamond Head to Hawaii Kai. These ponds were fed with freshwater from numerous springs which were necessary for the Hawaiians to grow stocks of fish in the brackish water. Almost all of these Ponds and springs have been covered up and developed into thousands of homes and residences by the late 1950’s through the 1960’s. This caused the natural flow of wai (water) to cease thus ending the life of these loko ia (fishponds). There was once over 480 fishponds in the 8 major Hawaiian islands. Kanewai Spring and Fishpond is the last of its kind on the island of Oahu.
A community non profit group called Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center was formed in 2007 and was involved in the removal of invasive limu (seaweed) that was overtaking the native limu in Maunalua Bay. Upon hearing stories of a hidden ancient Hawaiian spring and further investigation, the group discovered Kanewai - nearly stagnant and in bad shape. In 2010 they approached the off island owner, and offered to help in the clean-up and restoration of the property. Scott Liloa Stevens Poire, one of the leaders of the effort stated,“ I was in amazement when I first saw the spring. The rock walls that ancient Hawaiians built without mortar, around the rim of the water source was still intact after centuries. It was filled with opala (litter) and overgrown with bougainvillea, hale koa and mangrove, in the middle of a homeless encampment”. Six years later and after thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of truck loads of garbage and green waste to the dump, Kanewai spring is once again flowing into the fishpond. The homeless have been moved out and the entire property has been restored.
Kanewai Spring 2017
Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center is working to raise funding for the acquisition of this precious resource and turn it into a Native Hawaiian Cultural Hale and living classroom for the community. Keiki, kupuna, native Hawaiian practitioners and kumu (teachers) are some of the many community members that will directly benefit. Chris Cramer, President of the non-profit group says “This will be a living legacy for generations to come. Taking a historic site and a natural resource into the next century, to perpetuate Hawaiian culture and knowledge.”
Currently the property is under a purchase contract with The Trust for Public Land which has partnered with the Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center to preserve the spring. In partnership with The Trust for Public Land, they have attained 2 major grants — totaling $2.3 million dollars: $1,300,000 from the State Dept. of Land & Natural Resources - Legacy Land Conservation Program and $1,000,000 from the City & County of Honolulu-Clean Water & Natural Lands program. Additional donations from community donors have raised 88% of their $350,000 goal. If you would like to contribute or make a fully tax deductible gift toward the preservation of Kanewai Spring before it’s too late, please visit or make your check payable to: The Trust for Public Land, Kanewai Spring, 1003 Bishop Street, #740 Honolulu, Hawaii, 96813. v=AE07GFEJgo8