The destruction of coral reefs has become an unfortunate common occurrence under the umbrella of global warming and the result of extended human activity. Over 50% of the world's coral reefs have diminished over the last 30 years, and it is estimated that 90% of them will vanish by the end of the century. These alarming statistics include significant reefs such as the Great Barrier, those in Indonesia, Hawai‘i, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean—many endangered or already gone. But a new hope has come to the coast of Hawai‘i, as strong conjoined efforts among the science community and the people assist to restore the once beautiful Hawaiian reefs.

A new Hawaiian initiative, Ākoʻakoʻa, meaning both “coral” and “to assemble,” has fused new research with cultural traditions in hope of restoration. The initiative is presumed to focus on restoring 193 kilometers (120 miles) of coral reefs off the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. Hawai‘i’s coral reefs have been under extreme anthropogenic pressure over the last 50 years, falling victim to pollution, overfishing, and the impacts of climate change. The program will be highly science driven but the cultural knowledge and traditions of the community will be its main reliance. 

Native Hawaiian and Director of the Kohala Center, a community nonprofit focused on research, education, and stewardship, Cindi Punihaole, has greatly stressed the relationship between land and sea—“The land partner is to protect its ocean partner. We are taught to ‘Mālama I Ka ʻĀina’ (caring for and respecting the land). When the land is healthy and clean water flows to the shores, then our corals and fish will flourish. We strive for a world of balance and righteousness.” 

Arizona State University will lead the initiative and allocate $25 million in funding to research, conserve and restore degraded reefs. The program will also support the creation and building of a new research and coral propagation facility in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. This facility will help facilitate the needed scientific inquiries regarding coral health and the cultivation of new corals for restoration purposes. Ākoʻakoʻa is being supported and funded by the Dorrance Family Foundation, the Hawai‘i state’s Division of Aquatic Resources, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

“What happens on land affects the health of our oceans, so threats to our coral reefs stand to impact everyone. This collaboration represents the vast potential to accelerate positive change by joining scientific knowledge and cultural wisdom to address a critically important challenge facing our world,” stated President of ASU, Michael Crow.