Home » Service Learning » UHWO Service Learning: Kalaeloa Heritage Park

UHWO Service Learning: Kalaeloa Heritage Park

This weekend, my intro biology students at UH West O’ahu completed their first service learning event at Kalaeloa Heritage Park, an archeological site and wahi pana (sacred place) managed and protected by the Kalaeloa Heritage and Legacy Foundation. The 77 acres that make up Kalaleoa Heritage Park contain 177 recorded cultural sites. A six-acre section housing 51 documented archeological features is being prepared as an educational park which will eventually be open to the public.

Prior to the restoration, Shad Kane took the students on a tour of the 6-acre park, including the eleven primary archeological features which will form the focus of the park when it is open to the public. Shad emphasized to the students that the story of the Kalaeloa residents is one of the farmer, the fisherman, and the gatherer, not one of chiefs or royals. The entire ‘Ewa Plain (stretching from Pearl Harbor west to Wai‘anae) including Kalaeloa Heritage Park is emerged coral reef which has fossilized and covered with a thin layer of soil. Consequently, the archeaological features are built of coral ‘rocks’ excavated from the surrounding area and suggest a Tahitian origin due to the prevalence of upright stones in the construction.

The features include:

  • Sinkholes in the coral which access an extensive underground river of freshwater.  Sinkholes were used for agriculture (plants could be planted inside the sinkhole to access the water), drinking water, or burial sites. Some of the sinkholes were large enough to have stairwells carved into them and open into large underground chambers.
  • Storage structures in which food (such as salt fish) and other goods (including bird feathers) were stored.
  • Other burial structures (not in sinkholes) called ‘ahu, which also served as places of personal prayer.
  • Portions of the Kualaka’i Trail which served to link inland resources (for example, kalo fields) with shoreline fishing grounds. The trail was documented in early maps of Hawaii, including the well-known maps published in 1825 from surveys performed by Royal Navy Lt. Malden of the HMS Blonde.
  • The largest feature of the 6-acre park is a partially rebuilt gathering and meeting room. The floor of the structure includes a natural raised coral platform in the center, which overlays at least two large underground caves. Shad emphasized that since this was not the home of a chief, the structure is not a true heiau (temple).

Not all of the features of the 6-acre park are ancient. The Kalaeloa Heritage Park grounds were once owned by the United States Navy, and still today abut the Kalaeloa Airport with frequent military traffic. In 1949, a training exercise resulted in the crash of a 3-man plane, killing the men on board. Portions of the wreckage are still visible, and the heritage park plans to erect a memorial to honor the men.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While restoration by trained archeologists will prepare the archeological features for the park, the restoration efforts by UHWO students helps to prepare the rest of the grounds to better represent the landscape that would have existed when this region was inhabited. As with our other locations, much of the land has been overrun with introduced invasive plants, particularly ki’awe trees (introduced to Hawai’i in the 1800s as part of cattle ranching) and buffelgrass (introduced in the 1930s, and a promoter of fire, which most native Hawaiian plants cannot survive). The unusually wet summer we had was noticeable here – the overgrowth of invasive plants was noticeably more severe than in past semesters when I have worked at this site.

To restore this area, Bruce first selected a series of planting sites (marked with ‘o’o in the photos below). Students prepared the ground by first filling the hole around the ‘o’o with water. This technique allows water to soak down into the ground, encouraging plants to develop deeper roots and increasing their chances of long-term survival. Though Shad and the rest of the KHP crew do tend the plants to some degree, we want them to be as capable of surviving on their own as we can make them. While they waited for their water to soak in, the students cleared the area around the ‘o’o of invasive plants.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once the ground was prepared, Bruce Koebele introduced us to the native plants we would be planting:

Naio, nye-oh (Myoporum stellatum) This rare endemic shrub is found only in Kalaeloa and Nanakuli, and may soon be found only in Kalaeloa.  Despite being quite rare, naio is only listed as ‘at-risk.’ It was sometimes substituted for ‘iliahi during the sandalwood trade, giving it the unfortunate nickname of ‘bastard sandalwood.’

Maiapilo, mye-uh-pee-loh (Capparis sandwichiana) This endemic shrub is named for its stinky (‘pilo’ means a swampy or otherwise unpleasant smell) and banana-shaped (‘maia’ is the name for banana) fruits.  Maiapilo are closely related to capers and are federally listed as ‘at-risk.’  In early excavation at KHP, Shad discovered wild maiapilo already growing in the area, indicating our little plants will do well here. Maiapilo also attract birds to eat the seeds, which will not only spread more maiapilo plants, but will also contribute to a healthy ecosystem in the park.

Aweoweo ah-vay-oh-vay-oh (Chenopodium oahuense) This endemic shrub shares its name with a Hawaiian fish. The aweoweo because of the distinct fishy smell of the aweoweo flowers. Aweoweo is not currently found in Kalaeloa’ however a recent study of a sediment core from Ordy Pond identified aweoweo pollen indicating the plant used to occur in this area.

Kou, koh (Cordia subcordata) This native, though not endemic, tree was once thought to be a Polynesian introduction; however, recent excavations on Kaua’i uncovered fossilized kou seeds which pre-date Polynesian settlement of the islands indicating this plant is native to the islands.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This lonomea was planted by UHWO biology students in the fall of 2014, and it’s still doing well a year later!

Every semester, I also like to revisit the sites we restored in previous semesters, in the hopes of finding our little plants still thriving. Many of our plants from the previous two semesters were doing very well (particularly the aweoweo from last semester!). I found one little lonomea that I recognized from our first visit to KHP – look how well he’s doing now!

I want to end with a little aside for the native wiliwili trees (Erythrina sandwicensis) that are holding their own at KHP. These endemic trees are deciduous, which is unusual in Hawai’i. They’re also quite beautiful, particularly the brightly-colored seeds. At KHP, the wiliwili will be the primary shade trees (with some help from the lonomea), though right now, they are fighting for space with the invasive ki’awe. I took some nice close-ups of newly sprouted leaves on one of the individuals, and found a few of the seeds on the ground (indicating they are mature and healthy enough to be reproducing – a good sign!). The wiliwili also faces pressure from the Erythrina gall wasp (Quadrastichus erythrinae) which lays its eggs in the leaves. Quadrastichus infestations cause severe defoliation, mutation of leaves, and often death of the wiliwili. We found some such infected leaves at KHP (see photo below). In 2008, the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture introduced a second wasp, Eurytoma erythrinae, which is a natural predator on Quadrastichus in their native range of Africa. Eurytoma populations appear to be controlling Quadrastichus populations to manageable levels (though data collection is ongoing), without attacking native insects, such as the picture wing fly I found on the wiliwili leaf (see photo below).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: