A Coastal Adaptation Case Story: The Kūlana Noi‘i and Community-Research Partnerships

Kathryn Braddock Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 5/20/2021 - Updated on: 9/29/2021

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Kathryn Braddock

Project Summary

ʻĀina, Pilina, Kuleana. Land, Connection, Responsibility.

In the Hawaiian Islands, the relationship between people and the natural world is strong. As a biodiversity hotspot, the islands are host to various research projects that aim to better understand and protect valuable species, habitats, and ecosystem services. However, the community stewards of these resources are too often not engaged in research processes. In an effort to support more meaningful partnerships between researchers, natural and cultural resource practitioners, and the communities who care for and rely on local resources, the University of Hawai‘i, He‘eia National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA) spearheaded the formation of guidelines to promote collaborative, mutually-beneficial knowledge exchange.

For many years, grassroots efforts to restore the local environment and preserve traditional management practices have been underway in the Hawaiian Islands. For example, Paepae o Heʻeia stewards the ancient He‘eia loko i‘a (fishpond) for the local community. As a unique site of natural and cultural importance, the fishpond has long been the subject of research and restoration projects. Insights from these efforts and the overlapping interests from academia and government officials provide firsthand examples that partnerships can be mutually beneficial. Without meaningful and reciprocal community relationships, however, some efforts can be harmful. The Kūlana Noi‘i, or research standards, serve as guidance on how researchers can build and sustain more effective partnerships and long-term relationships with communities. While representing a uniquely Hawaiian perspective, these standards address a common disconnect between institutional research initiatives and the local communities in which they occur. The guidelines address challenges faced by research institutions, resource managers, and community stakeholders. The guidelines include a summary of best practices and patterns that have been successful at the community and research levels collected from insights of the KUA Research Committee, Moloka‘i Climate Change Collaboration, and a literature review of other collaborative research efforts in Native Hawaiian, Native American, and Aboriginal Canadian communities 

The Kūlana Noi‘i standards include: respect for people and place, reciprocity between researchers and community members, self-awareness of intentions and power of individuals and institutions, transparent and inclusive communication, maintaining a long-term focus, community engagement and co-production of knowledge, community ownership and access to knowledge, and accountability to the Kūlana Noi‘i. 


  • Kua‘āina Ulu ‘Auamo (KUA)
  • He‘eia National Estuarine Research Reserve 
  • Hawaiian Islands Sentinel Site Cooperative
  • Paepae o Heʻeia
  • University of Hawai‘i Student Equity, Excellence, and Diversity (SEED) 
  • University of Hawai‘i Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Success (IDEAS) Program 

Pilot phase: A workshop was held in 2017 with local stewards, principal investigators (PIs) from the University of Hawai‘i, and staff working in He‘eia Fishpond to discuss guiding questions for the Kūlana Noi‘i and how these guidelines could be applied in the Hawaiian Islands. 

Taking off in the academic community: The team started conducting trainings and workshops for students and PIs funded through Hawai‘i Sea Grant and other centers at the University of Hawai‘i with ~500 people trained to date. The Kūlana Noi‘i have also been incorporated into University of Hawai‘i student courses and faculty professional development curricula.

Sea Grant: Hawai‘i Sea Grant has adopted these guidelines in its requests for proposals. In addition, funding recipients (PIs and graduate trainee fellows) are required to participate in Kūlana Noi‘i trainings. The Kūlana Noi‘i was designated as a best management practice by the Sea Grant federal re-accreditation review team in 2018. 

Next steps: Lessons learned and revisions will be made to the Kūlana Noi‘i based on implementation outcomes. 

Community-Based Watershed Restoration in Heʻeia (Heʻeia ahupuaʻa), Oʻahu, Hawaiian Islands
Community-based Participatory Research Relationships with Aboriginal Communities in Canada: An Overview of Context and Process
Heʻeia Fishpond and Watershed
Kanaka ʻŌiwi Methodologies  Moʻolelo and Metaphor
Research that Benefits Native People – A Guide for Tribal Leaders
Traditional and Local Knowledge – A Vision for the Sea Grant Network


Braddock K, Gregg RM. 2021. A Coastal Adaptation Case Story: The Kūlana Noi‘i and Community-Research Partnerships. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/coastal-adaptation-case-story-kūlana-noi‘i (Last updated June 2021)

Project Contact

Katy Hintzen 
Coastal Resilience Specialist 
University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program
[email protected]

Brenda Asuncion
Hui Mālama Loko I'a Coordinator
KUA: Kua’aina Ulu ‘Auamo
[email protected]

Affiliated Organizations

University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant, Kua’aina Ulu ‘Auamo (KUA), Paepae o Heʻeia

Affiliated Organizations

Founded in 1968, the University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant) is part of a national network of 32 programs that promote better understanding, conservation, and use of coastal resources. UH Sea Grant works in partnership with the University of Hawaiʻi’s prestigious School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to identify Hawaiʻi’s critical resource management issues and guide cutting-edge scientific research to address these challenges.

KUA is an innovative, community-based initiative for protecting, restoring, and caring for Hawaiʻi. Our unique native species, ecosystems, and island way of life in Hawaiʻi are deeply interconnected, and are at the heart of what makes these islands “home.”

KUA means back, or backbone. Together, we are building a “backbone organization” that supports creative and collective community-based solutions to problems stemming from environmental degradation in Hawai’i.

Paepae o He’eia is a private non-profit organization dedicated to caring for He’eia Fishpond – an ancient Hawaiian fishpond located in He’eia Uli, Ko’olaupoko, O’ahu. Established in 2001 by a group of young Hawaiians, Paepae o He’eia works in partnership with landowner, Kamehameha Schools, to manage and maintain He’eia Fishpond for the community. Paepae o He’eia was established to mālama He’eia Fishpond and serve as kia’i to this precious resource and treasure.


Effort Stage
Adaptation Phase
Scale of Project

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
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