About me

profileI am currently a late stage PhD Candidate in the Limu lab at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Botany Department. Our lab specializes in ecology and physiology of tropical macroalgae. Some current focuses of our lab include linkages between wastewater pollution of groundwater to effects on nearshore reef, ecology and conservation of native species, and impacts of climate change on macroalgal physiology and ecology.

My current work focuses on the physiological and community ecology of macroalgae at the interface between land and sea, specifically at the site of submarine groundwater discharge seeps where fresh, nutrient rich groundwater mixes with coastal seawater. Beyond macroalgal biology, this land sea interface is a site of human interfaces between Indigenous knowledge, science, community, and policy. A graduate research assistantship with the ʻIke Wai EPSCOR project, and now with the Water Resource Research Center, has allowed my work to expand into the social ecological systems and Indigenous knowledge systems associated with the same hydrologic systems I study in my macroalgal physiology work. Here, as part of a multidisciplinary team of economists, hydrogeologists, and marine botanists we have begun to integrate marine algal data into hydrogeologic and economic modeling projections and decision making tools for policymakers, particularly as they relate to future land use scenarios, waste water pollution, and the protection of native limu(macroalgal) species and prevention of invasive algal blooms (see our latest publication here).

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Growing up in the diverse environment of the island of Hawaiʻi and her people drove me to a passion for the natural world, ecology, and culture. Hawaiʻi Island contains eight of the thirteen climate zones found worldwide, and the island chain is uniquely isolated in the pacific to maximize evolutionary radiation, so the diversity of natural ecosystems and organisms you experience here is remarkable. Hawaiʻi island is  home to a wealth of Hawaiian history and culture, including the birth place of King Kamehameha I and King Kamehameha III, the most extensive and productive areas of upland agricultural systems developed by Hawaiians, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau (place of refuge), and Kilauea volcano, the famous active volcano and home to madam Pele, the volcano goddess. Respect and participation in living kānaka maoli(native Hawaiian) culture, knowledge, and land use practices is instilled in the keiki(children) of Kona.  Reverence for the kānaka maoli system of ecomimicry that once expanded and maximized Hawaiʻi’s ecosystem productivity has us looking to the past to plan for the future. How did ancient Hawaiians manage these lands to maximize productivity while mitigating impacts on the natural ecosystem? How did they manage their agriculture, fisheries, forests, and coastal ecosystems? While we cannot go backwards in time, we can learn from the past and the present to plan for a better future. Indigenous knowledge, in combination with  modern scientific advances, is invaluable in protecting these valuable ecosystems for future generations.

My hometown, Kailua Kona, is known as one of the most progressively locally managed fishing communities within the Hawaiian islands, home to innovative community based fisheries management plans such as TRY WAIT, and community driven restoration and management groups such as Hui Aloha Kīholo and Friends of Hoʻokena Beach parkm who have stepped in to manage natural resources, restore cultural resources and ecosystems, and provide community education and camping management where limited state and county funding and policy prevented adequate protection and restoration. Kona is proud to work together to protect and manage our local ecosystems. However, both development and population growth are rapidly increasing on the Kona coast. The community is already facing challenges in resource management, infrastructure, and waste management; these challenges are only likely to increase with continued population growth. As this development occurs the community must come together to ensure proper planning for Kona’s future.

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Searching for fish on a shipwreck dive off Waikiki, ʻOahu. Photo by Elizabeth Sides.

In stark contrast to where I spent my childhood, the island of Oʻahu, where I have spent most of my career, is heavily developed. Oʻahu hosts the majority of the population of the Hawaiian islands, our largest city, and a wealth of anthropogenic impacts on our local ecosystems. Oʻahu is, however, the cultural center of the islands, known as “the meeting place,” this island is also home to some of the most political and some of the richest cultural history in the Hawaiian islands. Here on Oʻahu I was introduced to what invasive algal blooms, over-fishing, and pollution really mean for coastal ecosystems. The contrast that you experience when you jump in the ocean on Oʻahu includes low coral cover, low numbers of fish and other marine animals, turbid, cloudy, or murky waters, and the proliferation of harmful algal blooms.

Iʻve been lucky to experience a time of abundance for the coral reefs and people of Hawaiʻi island in the early 90s, the management challenges and environmental degradation that have occurred with development of Oʻahu island, and inspiring examples of biocultural restoration on both. What can be done to protect those ecosystems that have not already been impacted? What can we do to return impacted ecosystems and communities to a healthy state? How can we allow Indigenous knowledge and culture to thrive to prepare for a better future? Perhaps most importantly, what about our worldwide culture today needs to change in order to mālama(care for) and to promote proper management and to recognize our environment and our resources as vital sources of life, and to again regard them as kupuna(ancestors)?

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My favorite place to be is on the bottom of the sea, surrounded by healthy coral, fisheries, and a thriving social ecological system built on multigenerational resilience, in my hometown of Kailua Kona. Photo by Elizabeth Sides.