'Iolani School

Nā Wai ‘Ekolu

‘Iolani School is leading an effort to bring the community together to study and restore the important waterways of O‘ahu’s Waikīkī Ahu pua‘a (land from the mountains to the ocean).  Nā Wai ‘Ekolu are the three waters that flow between and connect the students, teachers, and citizens of the Ala Wai Watershed. What began with an ‘Iolani School AP Biology lab in 2010, working with one public school, has now grown to include partnerships with over 30 educational institutions, 1,500 educators and 12,000 students. Everyone works together under ‘Iolani’s leadership to participate in gathering data and tracking and removing thousands of invasive fish from the streams within the watershed. 

“We sought to create a learning community among the teachers and schools that share the Waikīkī ahupua‘a to empower students with the means, through data and knowledge, to track the health of their community,” says ‘Iolani faculty member Dr. Yvonne Chan.  “This hands-on, citizen science research insists that teachers and students connect with the natural world, building respect for and dedication to the health of their ecosystem, and ultimately, making predictions and offering solutions to the issues that challenge the health of their watershed,” says Megan Kawatachi, ‘Iolani’s Public Private Partnership Initiatives Coordinator.

Through Nā Wai ‘Ekolu, students and teachers learn how to:

  • Identify and count native and non-native fish species
  • Use traditional Hawaiian fishing methods to trap invasive fish
  • Think critically about ways they can personally make an impact and contribute to the future health of the watershed.

This hands-on, citizen science research project is a powerful way for teachers and students to connect with the natural world, build an affinity for the health of the ecosystem, and challenge students to solve a pressing real-world problem. Students are educated on the importance of caring for their environment and receive an opportunity to be part of the solution. Their active participation in removing invasive fish helps them connect to their natural world and empowers them with the resources of citizen science to solve problems.

This multi-school, collaborative citizen science project connected institutions, including the University of Hawaii and public and private schools, through outdoor, experiential, stream collection of biodiversity and water quality data; the training of educators and students on the assessment and monitoring of watershed health; the depositing and sharing of data online where it is accessible to the public including K-12 classrooms and researchers; the investigation of how data can be used for watershed conservation, management, and action.”

While great progress has been made there is much more work to be done. Clean-up and remediation of the waterways requires a long-term, multi-pronged approach with the collaboration of our community partners before real sustained change can be realized.

‘Iolani School is grateful to the EE Ford Foundation which has helped to make Nā Wai ‘Ekolu, and the expansion of the Ala Wai restoration with partner schools, students and community groups, possible.

Why Citizen Science?  

Citizen Science engages schools, teachers, and students to collect scientific data that is pertinent and relevant to problems affecting the local community. Whether to monitor the health of the watershed, track threatened species, or understand threats to human health, Citizen Science encourages schools, teachers, and students to step outside and observe the real world. Not just to learn about it, but to study it in a scientific, repeatable, and useful way, collecting data with a focus on problems and questions that are relevant to the local community where the schools are located. Citizen Science also engages researchers, government agencies and schools to become partners, increasing the connection between K-12 and higher education and community and government organization experts. By engaging schools in Citizen Science, the participants assume the role of observers, as the ancient Hawaiians were. By careful observation and by collecting scientific data, they can put their observations in context and gain a holistic understanding of the interconnectedness of the ahupua’a and the watershed ecosystem. This hands-on, citizen science research project is a powerful way for teachers and students to connect with the natural world, build an affinity for the health of the ecosystem, and challenges students to solve a pressing real-world problem.  An additional benefit is the integration of modern scientific approaches and traditional cultural knowledge into curriculum designed to foster a sense of place through a Hawaiian framework.

For more information on Nā Wai ‘Ekolu, please go to this website: https://www.nawaiekolu.org/