“Hello! My name is Katherine Kirchner, and I am from Columbus, Ohio.” This is how I start many of my days working at a Hawai’ian fishpond called Pae Pae o He’eia. With this, I introduce myself to the new volunteers each day and to the fishpond itself.
My internship at Pae Pae o He’eia
Pae Pae o He’eia is a fishpond – a loko ea – that was first built 800 years ago. It’s also where I’m interning during my CISabroad experience. With only eight days left at my internship, I’m simply in awe by how much I have learned about this place, this culture, and myself just by my work here.
At this ancient fishpond, I work in restoration. My focus is primarily on invasive species removal and building the fishpond’s rock wall.
I’ll be honest. building a fishpond is a lot of hard work, but getting to watch my impact on the fishpond and the environment has been so inspiring and worthwhile.
At Pae Pae o He’eia, I work outside every day, doing many different tasks to help restore this fishpond to its original form. Keahi, my supervisor at the pond, always reminds me that we are building for 800 years in the future. I find this concept very cool to think about, as the work I put in every day will help allow food for years and years to come. Therefore, every day is an opportunity to fully get fully immersed in the fishpond and its history.
Currently, the fishpond is not fully operational. Mangrove and seaweed (limu), both invasive species here on Oahu, need to be removed. The wall surrounding the pond must also be completed. These two projects are the biggest out of a long list of tasks that must be completed before we have a fully functioning fishpond. Working on these projects involves lopping, burning, chainsawing, carrying rocks, shoveling rocks, bucketing rocks, and weeding. So I get to do something new every day.
The Fishpond’s Restoration Philosophy
You’d think that with all of the countless jobs that must be done, the staff at Pae Pae o He’eia would consider using bigger machines and tools to complete tasks faster. But they don’t. This is what I love most about this organization. By taking the time to use small tools and simple manpower, we’re staying true to all of the people who built this fishpond in the first place.
By dismissing the machines that can plow down hundreds of mangrove trees in a day, and picking up chainsaws and handsaws instead, we have the privilege to connect with the nature around us, while also building a community that cares for this fishpond.
If giant machines were used, I would have never found a home at Pae Pae o He’eia. I would have never met Keahi. And maybe I would have never been to Hawai’i. Today, I cannot imagine my life without my time at the fishpond. I have learned so much through it.
On my first day of work, my site director Lisa drove me to the He’eia State Park, showing me a wonderful view of where I would be working for 8 weeks. I was in disbelief, as this view was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. Every day, I look up at the mountains and cannot comprehend that I was given the amazing opportunity to work here every single day. I’m certain that in 10 years, 20 years – even 50 years – I’ll never forget the view of the fishpond and everything I learned during my time at Pae Pae o He’eia.
During this internship, I’ve learned not only about environmental issues and science behind the pond, but also about the culture of Hawai’i. I was even invited to participate in a ceremony. I loved every second, and know that I will always have a family at Pae Pae o He’eiaa.
Throughout my internship, I also had a lot of time to explore the island. Our CISabroad site director was wonderful and always willing to answer questions (while also planning a few excursions). The island is wonderful, and I would definitely recommend having a checklist of places that you’d like to see.
Curious about CISabroad’s Intern in Hawai’i program? Or want to intern in environmental and sustainability studies somewhere else on the globe? These handy links can get you started.