Working For Clean Water

The State of Hawai'i has over 90 water bodies that are considered "impaired" under State and Federal standards for water quality. 

Your support enables us to actively improve water quality, and furthers our mission to ensure fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters for future generations. 

“Ola i ka wai” - Water Is Life. 

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Waterkeepers Mission

Waiwai Ola Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands is an environmental non-profit organization.  Waterkeepers work to protect the ability of present and future generations to swim, fish, drink, and otherwise use and enjoy the waters that support the people and culture of Hawai‘i.  

Every day, polluted runoff and pathogens from antiquated wastewater infrastructure contaminate our fresh and marine water resources.  Many popular beaches across the islands have been closed repeatedly due to concerns for water quality.  

Although our problems are daunting, there is still hope.  Some of our challenges are similar to other coastal communities around the world that have already begun to lay the foundation for their clean water futures.   Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands is engaging innovative solutions to address local water quality challenges.

Clean Water Under Our Homes

In partnership with the Hawai‘i Department of Health, we are working to educate residents about low cost alternatives to cesspools.  More efficient wastewater infrastructure will reduce bacteria levels and pathogens in our water resources.

Connections Between COVID 19 and Wastewater

The tremendous amount of information circling the globe regarding the SARS - CoV- 2, the COVID 19 virus, is mind-boggling.  We want to help community members focus on the most pressing threats of COVID 19, which is person-to-person transfer of the virus.   Social distancing remains key.

Reports in the media and some scientific journals have raised concerns about the COVID 19 virus being excreted in feces and detected in municipal sewage as well as in the ocean.  There are questions about whether sewage and wastewater may be a source of infection for swimmers and paddlers.  Unfortunately, very little is known at this time.  To address this issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) offers some perspective:

There is no evidence to date that the COVID19 virus has been transmitted via sewerage systems with or without wastewater treatment. Furthermore, there is no evidence that sewage or wastewater treatment workers contracted Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome [SARS], which is caused by another type of coronavirus that caused a large outbreak of acute respiratory illness in 2003.” The WHO advised there have been “no reports of faecal-oral transmission of the COVID19 virus".  

While the risk of contracting the virus through wastewater in the ocean remains low, residents should be very careful with sanitary practices at home. The WHO provides guidance regarding COVID19 for home wastewater management.

"People with suspected or confirmed COVID19 disease should be provided with their own flush toilet or latrine that has a door that closes to separate it from the patient's room. Flush toilets should operate properly and have functioning drain traps. When possible, the toilet should be flushed with the lid down to prevent droplet splatter and aerosol clouds. The toilet should be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily."  [By persons wearing PPE.] 

More research must be done about COVID 19 transmission, but right now, the priorities are flattening the curve and treating the infection.  Please remember to wash your hands often.  Now more than ever, we are grateful for clean water.


Helping to Improve Water Quality & Clarity

The quality of our water resources will determine the health of our people and our economy.

The first Waterkeeper project in Hawai‘i is the restoration of native oysters to actively improve water quality and clarity at locations around the island of O'ahu.  Over 10,000 oysters produced at the Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resources Center at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo have been out-planted at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Marine Corps Base at Kane‘ohe Bay, the Hawai'i Yacht Club and the Waikiki Yacht Club in the Ala Wai Harbor, and most recently at Honolulu Community College's Marine Education & Training Center at Sand Island. 

Filter feeding bivalves such as oysters improve water quality by removing harmful pollutants that enter the ocean from wastewater and stormwater. Oysters also remove carbon from the water column and use it to build their shells, underscoring their importance in our changing climate and marine environment.  The restoration project is modeled after similar efforts involving oysters for bioremediation.  Restoration projects in Hawai'i are made possible with support from private donors including Douglas Emmett, the Chee Family Foundation, the Sangham Foundation,  the Von Konynenburg Foundation, and the Fisher family.


Oysters Connect Youth to Watershed Health


Inspiring Conversations About Water Pollution

In conjunction with oyster restoration projects, Waterkeepers engage the community in watershed education to reduce the flow of land-based pollutants towards the nearshore waters.


Learning About the Nearshore Ecosystem

Crabs like this one sneak into oyster cages as tiny larvae that can grow up eating oysters.  Students learn that crabs, like oysters, are an important part of a healthy ecosystem.


Taking Action

Students learn about how the oysters function, and how we can all help them by taking action to improve water quality.

Mahalo to our Volunteers!


Assessing conditions and monitoring water quality.  Oysters need the right amount of salinity, temperature, and food availability to survive and thrive.


Maintaining cages and recording surrounding organisms.  There are many predators in the water.  Volunteers clear predators like crabs, worms, and small fish from the cages.  


Caring for oysters and measuring growth rates.  Volunteers measure oysters monthly and track growth rates across various locations.


Gathering trash on the surface of the water.  Our surfers and paddlers are on the front lines of Hawai'i's water quality reality.  We appreciate you!  


Tracking the health of our watersheds, one cleanup event at a time!


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Rear Admiral Brian Fort Lower Oyster Cages into the Water with assistance from Marian Phillipson of O'ahu Waterkeeper.

The oysters are kept in cages to protect them from predators.  These oysters cannot be eaten, they are for restoration only.  Commercial oysters are grow in clean water under strict regulations.


Nainoa Thompson encouraged efforts to actively care for the planet.

During the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, Thompson witnessed first hand the large-scale Billion Oyster Project in New York Harbor in partnership with Hudson Riverkeeper.  Hōkūleʻa's historic first visit to Pearl Harbor one year ago nurtured the connection that the community feels to the area’s natural and cultural history.  


A partnership is working together to return native Hawaiian oysters to their namesake waters, Pearl Harbor.

 The Navy, O‘ahu Waterkeeper, and the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center (“PACRC”) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are restoring native oysters to improve water clarity and quality.  This project has deep cultural and historical significance.  Native shellfish species were once abundant as expressed through Native Hawaiian chants, songs, and legends.  The new project involves the restoration of two species of native shellfish whose populations have declined in modern times:  Dendostrea sandvicensis (Hawaiian Oyster) and Pinctada margaritifera (Black-lip Pearl Oyster).

About Us

Rhiannon Chandler-'Iao, Executive Director pictured here with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

      Rhiannon “Rae” Tereari‘i Chandler-‘Īao (pictured here with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) serves as the Executive Director and O‘ahu Waterkeeper for Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands.  After graduating from William S. Richardson School of Law in 2016 with certificates in both Native Hawaiian Rights Law and Environmental Law, she worked as a Post-J.D. Research & Teaching Fellow at Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law.  

     Prior to attending law school, Rhiannon served as the Executive Director of the environmental non-profit organization Community Work Day Program, d.b.a. Mālama Maui Nui.  While on Maui, she served as a member of the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission, the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, and the Steering Committee of Ka Ipu Kukui Fellows Leadership Program.   

   Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands is led by the Board Members of O'ahu Waterkeeper - President:  Wendy Wiltse, Ph.D.,  Vice President: Denise Darval-Chang, Treasurer: Maile Goo, Psy.D., Secretary: Nikki DeHeart, and Anne Brasher, Ph.D., as well as Advisory Council Members of Kona Coast Waterkeeper and Hilo Bay Waterkeeper.


About Waterkeeper Alliance

     Under the direction of Board President Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement to protect water resources, currently uniting more than 340 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates  throughout over 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. 

Join the Oyster 'Ohana


Help Us Care for the Oysters

Oysters live in cages to protect them from predators.  Help us care for the oysters, clean their cages, and monitor their growth.  

Not Able to Volunteer?

You can support our efforts to improve water quality by donating today.  Like matter how small, every little bit helps.  Together, we can ensure fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters for future generations.

Waterkeeper Articles

Waikiki Aquarium Magazine Article (pdf)


Midweek Good Neighbor Article (pdf)


Stay Wild Magazine Clean Water Article (pdf)


Hawaiian Airlines Hana Hou Magazine Article (pdf)


Oysters in the News!

Native Hawaiian Oysters

Hawai'i Public Radio

Hawai'i Public Radio

Hawai'i Public Radio

 Rhiannon "Rae" Tereari'i Chandler-'Iao discusses upcoming oyster projects on Hawai'i Public Radio's    "The Conversation"


Big Island Now

Hawai'i Public Radio

Hawai'i Public Radio

Find out more about the use of oysters to help improve water quality in Pearl Harbor


KHON2 Morning News

Hawai'i Public Radio

Partnership With Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS)

O'ahu Waterkeeper Program Director Marian Phillipson and Navy Biologist Becky Springer explain the history of oysters in Pearl Harbor and describe the native oyster restoration project 


Partnership With Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS)

UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resource Center Partners with Honolulu Community College to Improve Water Quality in Ke‘ehi Lagoon

Partnership With Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS)

Master navigator Nainoa Thompson was at Pearl Harbor to celebrate the kickoff of O'ahu Waterkeeper's native oyster restoration. Voyagers witnessed first hand the large-scale Billion Oyster Project in New York Harbor in partnership with Hudson Riverkeeper.   


UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resource Center Partners with Honolulu Community College to Improve Water Quality in Ke‘ehi Lagoon

UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resource Center Partners with Honolulu Community College to Improve Water Quality in Ke‘ehi Lagoon

UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resource Center Partners with Honolulu Community College to Improve Water Quality in Ke‘ehi Lagoon

Learn more about the educational opportunities oysters are making possible.


Civil Beat: Oysters Unleashed

UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resource Center Partners with Honolulu Community College to Improve Water Quality in Ke‘ehi Lagoon

UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resource Center Partners with Honolulu Community College to Improve Water Quality in Ke‘ehi Lagoon

This article provides an overview of Hawai'i's impaired water quality and shines a light on native oyster projects across O'ahu as a intervention to improve conditions.


Waterkeeper Alliance Blog

Waterkeeper Alliance Blog

Waterkeeper Alliance Blog

In this article, Waterkeeper Alliance shares details on the background of the Pearl Harbor restoration and connections to other Waterkeeper programs around the world.


Maui News Article

Waterkeeper Alliance Blog

Waterkeeper Alliance Blog

  Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, PACRC at UH Hilo, and Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands are working together to use oysters to filter and improve water quality in Ma'alaea Harbor while the partnership looks at ways to reduce the flow of pollutants from the upper watershed.


Maui Now

Waterkeeper Alliance Blog

Maui Now

Watch Maui Now's news coverage celebrating the Pacific oysters' arrival in Ma'alaea Harbor.

Adopt a Native Oyster 'Ohana to Improve Water Quality

 Native oysters are filter feeders that remove harmful pollutants including sediment, bacteria, heavy metals, PCBs, oil, microplastics, sunscreen chemicals, and nutrients from the water column.                  


One adult Hawaiian Oyster (Dendostrea sandvicensis) can filter approximately 20 gallons of water per day.  Each ‘ohana of 25 oyster brothers and sisters can filter approximately 500 gallons of water per day.  Your donation of $50.00 will support the cost of 25 oysters and the aquapurse that protects them from predation by crabs and other marine animals.  

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Waterkeepers in Hawai'i