HHF Planners in the community Part 1: Kawainui Marsh

June 12, 2014

By Erin HigaGroup-Pic

The staff at HHF Planners gets out to do volunteer work…a lot. I’m sure this has much to do with the mentality of the community of planners and architects, always wanting to be involved with improving their community (like our catchphrase, “places for people”). In the short time that I’ve been at HHF Planners (one month), I’ve gone on two fun-filled volunteer days with members of our team. We’ve really got a great bunch of bright, inspiring, hard-working people who give 110% to everything they do, both in and outside of work. Every day working alongside them, whether we’re sitting in our office communal areas, getting dirty in a marsh, or planting indigenous plants on a ridge, I always have a meaningful takeaway.

Kawainui Marsh Clean-Up


Just this past Saturday, Rick Quinn, Cindy Gamiao and I spent the morning at Kawainui Marsh with Wetland Manager Ati Jeffers-Fabro and Wildlife Biologist James “Jim” Cogswell, both of the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). We were joined by Rick’s son Shawn and friends, as well as Cindy’s husband Jesse and daughter Chelsea. As a first-timer in a group of regulars, I was fascinated by Jim’s brief history of how Kawainui came to be: from inland sea, to loko iʻa (managed Hawaiian fish pond) to lo‘i (taro patch), to rice paddies, to cattle ranch, and finally to its present state, choked with invasive plants.  This brought him to our mission for the day and the role it would play in restoring the natural habitat and health of the site.

The focus of the work was the Restoration Ponds built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer and DOFAW as habitat for native waterbirds.  Due to the regular monitoring of this habitat, and the hard work of Jim and his team, the ponds have seen a great level of success, judging by the increasing numbers of native birds and their young. We were lucky enough to see four one-month-old baby ae‘o, or Hawaiian stilts, just old enough to fly short distances.

Along with other volunteers, we took up a seine net and corralled Chinese catfish, tilapia and oodles of `opae pake, or red swamp crawfish, hukilau-style out of one of the ponds. The point of this harvest was to remove as much of the fauna that had been deposited into the pond from Maunawili Stream before it dries out with the heat of summer.  Any decaying fish and crawfish left behind could pose a threat of avian botulism at the marsh, which could decimate the new bird populations.


Our next job was to cut cattails to reduce the huge invasive weed seed bank at the marsh.  We separated into small groups and waded through the southern ponds, clippers and mini-scythes in-hand.

By the end of our time at Kawainui, we’d made new friends with some wonderful people, exchanged cards and email addresses, and really felt the connection between the work that we do at HHF Planners and the work that we do in the community.

Here are more pictures of time well spent:

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See Robyn Sweesy’s blog, “It was a dark and storming morning…” from a previous volunteer day at Kawainui.  Growing up in Kailua, Robyn has a special perspective on the marsh.

And please see the Draft Kawainui-Hāmākua Marsh Complex Master Plan Update for DOFAW to see the many years of expertise, research, and heart that HHF Planners’ staff have poured into work at Kawainui. The staff is very proud of our work on this document and the community involvement that went into its production. The ultimate goal is to preserve and direct the marsh as a critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian birds. In addition to protecting biodiversity and coastal resources, a successful restoration of habitat and ecosystem function of the marsh can act as an important educational and cultural asset to Kailua and the island of O‘ahu.  

To help Jim maintain Kawainui as a habitat for Hawai‘i’s endangered waterbirds, please come volunteer at Kawainui from 9am-12 noon on the first Saturday of every month. Volunteer information here.

If you know, or are part of any organization that would be willing to adopt one of the ponds at the habitat (and regularly maintain it), please contact Jim Cogswell: james.m.cogswell@hawaii.gov


Stay tuned for Part 2 of HHF Planners in the community: Kalahe‘e Ridge



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