Kuapā Pond, also known as Keahupuaomaunalua (“the shrine of the baby mullet at Maunalua”) was once the largest loko kuapā on O‘ahu, estimated at approximately 523-acres.
Kuapā Pond was apparently created near the end of the ice age, when the rising sea level caused the shoreline to retreat and partial erosion of the headlands adjacent to the bay formed sediment that accreted to form a barrier beach at the mouth of the pond, creating a lagoon.
Early Hawaiians used the natural lagoon as a fishpond and reinforced the natural sandbar with stone walls.
Kuapā literally means “wall of a fish pond” and a loko kuapā is one type of fishpond made by building a wall on a reef. The wall at this fishpond was about 5,000 feet long.
One of the main harvests was mullet because the combination of freshwater and shallow sand or mud flats that the ponds created were ideal for growing the algae that mullet fed off of.
Hawaiian Historian Kamakau writes of Kamehameha I participating in the restoration of the Maunalua fishpond., “While he (Kamehameha) lived on Oahu he encouraged the chiefs and commoners to raise food and he went fishing and would work himself at carrying rock or timber … He worked at the fishponds at Ka-wai-nui, Ka‘ele-pulu, Uko‘a (in Waialui,) Mauna-lua, and all about O’ahu. (Kamakau 1961:192)
In 1900, the island of Oahu had a total of 100 documented, working fishponds, providing thousands of pounds of fish for the community throughout the year.
Missionary Levi Chamberlain, during his Trip Around Oahu on June 21, 1826, noted: “I descended with my attendant, and near the shares of a large pond containing a surface of many hundred acres I came to a little settlement called Keawaawa and stopped e few moments to enquire the way & to allow my attendant the luxury of a whif of tobacco.”
“Thence I walked on by the side of the pond in a southerly direction about a mile having the eminences Mounalua (Maunalua) on my left- I then came to a narrow strip of land resembling a causeway partly natural and partly constructed extending in a Northwest direction across what appeared to be considerable of a bay forming a barrier between the sea and the pond.”
“At the further end of this causeway sluices are constructed & the waters of the sea unite with the pond and at every flood tide replenish it with a fresh supply of water. Near the middle of this causeway there is a settlement of 18 houses belonging to Kalola called Mounalua (Maunalua.)”
It is said that the pond was partially constructed by Menehune, a legendary race of small people and was connected through an underground tunnel to Kaʻelepulu fishpond in Kailua.
In J. Gilbert McAllister’s 1933 Archaeology of Oahu, he notes: “Keahupua-o-Maunalua Fishpond—The pond is said to connect by means of an underground tunnel with Kaelepulu pond in Kailua.”
“From time to time great schools of mullet disappear from the Maunalua pond and are to be found in the Kailua pond. At the same time the awa, which were in the Kailua pond, appear in the Maunalua pond. When the mullet reappear in the Maunalua pond the awa disappear. Kanane, the fish warden, tells me that this occurs even today, but cannot be explained by the Japanese who leases the pond.”
The ownership of the ‘ili of Maunalua passed to Bernice Pauahi Bishop and thus to the Kamehameha Schools.
To a lot of people, Kuapā is now referred to as “Koko Marina,” the result of development in the 1960s by Henry J Kaiser.
In 1961, Bishop Estate leased a 6,000-acre area, which included Kuapa Pond, to Kaiser Aetna for subdivision development. The development is now known as “Hawaii Kai.”
Kaiser Aetna dredged and filled parts of Kuapa Pond, erected retaining walls and built bridges within the development to create the Hawaii Kai Marina.
They increased the average depth of the channel from two to six feet and also created accommodations for pleasure boats and eliminated the sluice gates.
The East Honolulu region (including Hawaii Kai,) has a population of approximately 49,100 people (2010,) 5.2% of O‘ahu’s population. Hawai‘i Kai is one of O‘ahu’s larger bedroom communities. The pond now serves as a marina for small boats, and is open space in this growing community.
Lots of good stuff is going on to protect and restore the nearshore waters and bring attention to the region by Mālama Maunalua and Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center.