In Hawaiʻi, the transition from customary subsistence flooded taro agroecosystems, which regulate stream discharge rate trapping sediment and nutrients, to a plantation-style economy (c. the 1840s) led to nearshore sediment deposition—smothering coral reefs and destroying adjacent coastal fisheries and customary fishpond mariculture. To mitigate sediment transport, Rhizophora mangle
was introduced in estuaries across Hawaiʻi (c. 1902) further altering fishpond ecosystems. Here, we examine the impact of cultural restoration between 2012–2018 at Heʻeia Fishpond, a 600–800-year-old walled fishpond. Fishpond water quality was assessed by calculating water exchange rates, residence times, salinity distribution, and abundance of microbial indicators prior to and after restoration. We hypothesized that R. mangle
removal and concomitant reconstruction of sluice gates would increase mixing and decrease bacterial indicator abundance in the fishpond. We find that Heʻeia Fishpond’s physical environment is primarily tidally driven; wind forcing and river water volume flux are secondary drivers. Post-restoration, two sluice gates in the northeastern region account for >80% of relative water volume flux in the fishpond. Increase in water volume flux exchange rates during spring and neap tide and shorter minimum water residence time corresponded with the reconstruction of a partially obstructed 56 m gap together with the installation of an additional sluice gate in the fishpond wall. Lower mean salinities post-restoration suggests that increased freshwater water volume influx due to R. mangle
removal. Spatial distribution of microbial bio-indicator species was inversely correlated with salinity. Average abundance of Enterococcus
did not significantly change after restoration efforts, however, average abundance of a biomarker specific to birds nesting in the mangroves decreased significantly after restoration. This study demonstrates the positive impact of biocultural restoration regimes on water volume flux into and out of the fishpond, as well as water quality parameters, encouraging the prospect of revitalizing this and other culturally and economically significant sites for sustainable aquaculture in the future.
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