by Mike Markrich
photos by Dana Edmunds
Herb Lee remembers the day he first discovered Waikalua Loko fishpond, after he took a job as a community relations specialist for the Japanese developer of Kaneohe’s Bayview Golf Course, which surrounds the 400-year-old pond. "I was totally amazed," Lee recalls. "I went down to the pond and thought, ‘How can I have lived here all my life and never have known this place existed?’"
At the time, the area around the pond was choked with dirt and mangroves, but "I had the idea that the revitalization of the pond should be geared toward education," Lee says. So he persuaded the developer to set it aside as a community project, and founded Project Kahea Loko, or "the call of the pond." He began organizing a community effort to clear the pond, and in 1995 started working with teachers to bring students to Waikalua Loko for hands-on learning experiences about Hawaii’s fish, plants and intricate ancient aquaculture systems.
Today, Project Kahea Loko uses federal and state education funding to bus mostly Native Hawaiian schoolchildren to the pond from all over Oahu. "We help the kids relate to something in their culture they can be proud of," says Lee, "and when they get here, they just light up."
Educators involved with the project include noted Hawaiian composer and kumu hula Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett and curriculum developer Kaohua Lucas, who has worked extensively with the state’s Hawaiian language immersion schools. "When the children from central Honolulu get off the bus and see the pond, they are so surprised," says Lucas. "They have never been to a fishpond before, and they don’t have any other experience to judge it by. It’s like they’re saying, "Oh my God, the world can be so beautiful. I didn’t know!"