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Maui Prep student learns about Hawaiian culture and loving the land at internship with Hui o Kuapa

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Aug 1, 2019

Maui Preparatory Academy senior Peyton Gillespie spent his summer as a STEMworks summer intern at Hui o Kuapa in Kaunakakai, Molokai. Known as a Hawaiian learning center, Hui o Kuapa’s mission is to educate the local and global community about Native Hawaiian resource management and innovation.

NAPILI – Peyton Gillespie, Maui Preparatory Academy senior, spent his summer, for the second year, as a participant in the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) STEMworks Summer Internship Program.

STEMworks provides high school students, college students and young entrepreneurs with a dynamic six-week program at host organizations throughout the islands.

The interns and companies both benefit, as industry mentors offer invaluable knowledge, advice and career insight to the aspiring young STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and agriculture students.

“It is incredibly important that we inspire students and help them develop an interest in science and technology at a young age,” said Lalaine Pasion, STEMworks project manager.

“The STEMworks interns had a unique opportunity to explore technical and professional development during a service-learning project to improve their community. The internship was enhanced with weekly webinars to help build their professional skills and work ethics.”

Gillespie interned at Hui o Kuapa, a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by Uncle Walter Ritte in Kaunakakai, Molokai.

Known as a Hawaiian learning center, the hui’s mission is to educate the local and global community about Native Hawaiian resource management and innovation.

For over 30 years, Hui o Kuapa has also championed traditional Hawaiian aquaculture by hosting community organizing events to teach sustainable fishing practices.

The fishpond movement garnered support from key officials like former Gov. John Waihee, who established the Molokai Fishpond Task Force, and the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who took personal interest in the effort.

Inouye helped to direct over $1.4 million in federal funds through the Environmental Protection Agency to support fishpond restoration and the study of their ecosystem services.

“The organization has been instrumental in raising awareness about the need to care for our planet and food security in rural communities,” Gillespie said. “Hui o Kuapa works primarily out of Keawanui Fishpond, a site they saved from development and fully restored. Today, it serves as a living laboratory and classroom. Thanks to their long-standing dedication, numerous nonprofit organizations focusing on fishpond restoration have been formed following their model. In this environment, I was offered the opportunity to apply STEM skills and to study Hawaiian culture, civics, and history.”

Gillespie learned to love the land by giving back to the land.

“There is a proper balance and fragility of a fishpond ecosystem,” he said.

“It is important to use natural resources in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner to aid the farming process. I worked on maintenance of the pond’s structures, cared for the land and native plants, jellyfish removal in the oyster farm, and hosted volunteer groups of all ages. Mostly, the restoration of a native site is about cultural aspects, learning more about working and loving the land, and working with people who share the same joy of giving back.”

Throughout his internship, Gillespie learned the importance of restoring traditional practices and cultural pride in an effort to find sustainable solutions for the future. By working with rocks, water, marine life and other natural resources, he witnessed the link of environmental restoration to cultural restoration.

“My mentors, Hanohano Na’ehu, Kahekili Pa-Kala and Kalaniua Ritte, teach about cultural pride and the ingenuity of Hawaiian sustainability,” he explained.

“By emphasizing how traditional Hawaiian natural resource management practices maintained a healthy population for 2,000 years, the Hui o Kuapa team helps to show community members in Hawaii today how food security can once again be achieved.”

Gillespie started his 2019 internship where he left off last year, working on numerous projects, one of which was the start of a small oyster farm within the fishpond.

“Last year, we pounded in T-posts, strung wire, built oyster cages and then set them,” he noted. “Now, a year later, the oysters are being harvested, and we are working on getting our commercial license to sell them.”

With his team, Gillespie built an oyster depuration system that is used to re-circulate seawater in a closed system, keeping the oysters healthy to prepare them for distribution. They also moved rocks and gravel in preparation to complete their ongoing “mini fishpond” project.

“We continued by going out and cleaning every last oyster cage, opening the cages, sorting, checking, and cleaning the oysters, and finally re-stringing all the cages,” he said. “This is to make sure the oysters stay healthy and are growing to their full potential. Finally, we completed our oyster depuration system, and the system is now up and running with oysters inside.”

During his last internship week, Gillespie moved a few hundred oysters to the depuration tank, and sent a few of these oysters to a lab for testing. He used the wood his team had cut from non-native trees in the forest a couple of weeks earlier to fix up the roof on one of the hand-built hales (small covered sitting areas, like a house).

“We finished up our last week of work by ironing out our organization and production methods,” he said, “so the process can be done efficiently for as long as it continues. It really has been a fabulous internship. It reinforced the importance of proper natural resource management through everyone working together to achieve a goal. Additionally, I became aware of the numerous educational opportunities for students and adults through volunteering. I am so grateful to MEDB and STEMworks for this extraordinary summer experience!”