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. "Waiwai Ola" means "living wealth." Indeed, the future of our water resources will determine the future of our people. “Ola i ka wai” - Water Is Life.
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.
The first Waterkeeper project in Hawai‘i, led by O'ahu Waterkeeper, is the restoration of native oysters to actively improve water clarity and quality at locations around O'ahu. We are working in partnership with the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center (“PACRC”) at UH Hilo and the Waikiki Aquarium to deploy cages of native oysters in nearshore waters.
Filter feeding bivalves such as oysters can improve water quality by removing harmful pollutants that enter the ocean from wastewater and stormwater, as well as industrial and agricultural runoff. Oysters also remove carbon from the water and use it to build their shells, underscoring their importance in our changing climate and marine environment. The restoration project is modeled after several successful partnerships with Waterkeeper organizations on the East Coast involving the restoration of native oysters for bioremediation. The restoration projects will begin in late 2018 with support from private donors including Douglas Emmett, the Chee Family Foundation, and the Sangham Foundation.
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 three species of native shellfish whose populations have declined in modern times: Dendostrea sandvicensis (Hawaiian Oyster), Pinctada margaritifera (Black-lip Pearl Oyster), and Pinctada radiata (Rayed Pearl Oyster).
In partnership with the Hawai‘i Department of Health, we are working to develop a pilot low-cost loan program to help residents afford to upgrade their cesspools to aerobic treatment units or other more efficient wastewater infrastructure. This will reduce bacteria levels and pathogens in our water resources.
Rhiannon “Rae” Tereari‘i Chandler-‘Īao (pictured here with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) serves as the Executive Director and O‘ahu Waterkeeper for Waiwai Ola 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.
Waiwai Ola Waterkeepers Hawaiian Islands is led by the Board Members of O'ahu Waterkeeper - President: Wendy Wiltse, Ph.D., Vice President: Marian Phillipson, Treasurer: Maile Goo, Psy.D., and Secretary: Heather George, as well as Board Member Denise Darval-Chang, and Advisory Council Members of Kona Coast Waterkeeper and the proposed Hilo Bay Waterkeeper.
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.