An organization founded by world-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle has designated Hawaii island’s Kahalu‘u Bay as a “hope spot.”

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Kahalu‘u Bay “has become a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration for the community,” Earle said in news release.

It serves as a model for other smaller bays around the world and shows how they can also harness the deep relationships between people and the environment to protect these important marine ecosystems, Earle added.

Mission Blue, Earle’s group, considers “hope spots” to be any “special place that is critical to the health of the ocean.”

Kahalu’u Bay is considered a “hope spot.” Courtesy: Blue Mission

Kahalu‘u is the Hawaiian word for “diving place.” Located on the Big Island’s west side south of Kailua-Kona, the bay is known for its clear, shallow waters and rich marine life. Several endangered and threatened species frequent the bay, including Hawaiian monk seals, humpback whales, and green and hawksbill turtles.

More than 400,000 beachgoers use the bay annually, according to Mission Blue. Other impacts on the bay come from cesspools, runoff, sea level rise and climate change.

Despite the negative pressures Kahalu‘u Bay is experiencing, help is coming from people like Cindi Punihaole, director of The Kohala Center’s Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center, and Christine Zalewski, president of Dear Ocean. Both are working to preserve Kahalu‘u Bay for future generations, according to the news release.

“Today, when younger people go into the bay, they still see beautiful tropical fish and coral, but they don’t have a reference point to understand how much the bay has changed from what it once was. We hope to help restore the bay back to that state as much as possible,” Zalewski said.

Their organizations have developed public-private partnerships with community members, for-profit and non-profit organizations, and local government to protect the bay and its fragile ecosystem.

The Kohala Center’s Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center provides daily stewardship at the bay through an agreement with Hawaii County. That effort includes an annual temporary closure of the beach park in mid-May when cauliflower corals in Kahalu‘u Bay spawn.

This year’s spawning recently concluded, fostering hope of a new generation of this ecologically important coral species, according to Mission Blue.

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