Founded in 2019, Kuleana Coral Restoration (Kuleana Coral) was founded by a diverse team of Native Hawaiians, scientists and ocean advocates determined to restore the degraded coral reefs surrounding their home island of O’ahu.
By combining indigenous and modern scientific practices, Kuleana Coral works in the essence of 'aina momona, with a goal of abundant reef ecosystems.
“Restoring Hawaii’s coral reefs to cultivate resilient marine ecosystems, for the enrichment of the culture, environment, and economy of the people of Hawaii and for the world”
Alex Peleholani Garcia
CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Born and raised on the island of Oahu, Alika is a Native Hawaiian and multi-generational subsistence fisherman. He attended the University of Hawaii, Manoa where he studied marine biology and aquaculture. While at university, Alika joined the Scientific Diving group and conducted various coral reef surveys around the Hawaiian islands. Alika has served as a Firefighter/EMT with the Honolulu Fire Department for over 13 years. He has over 15 years in Hawaiian commercial fishing and has led teams of SCUBA divers and boaters on various missions. Alika is passionate about marine conservation, specifically by combining the knowledge and experience of local fishermen with modern scientific practices. He believes this approach, guided by traditional Hawaiian values, will be the most effective in solving our marine resource problems.
Daniel Demartini, PhD
CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF SCIENCE
Always drawn to the water, marine biochemist Danny DeMartini has studied on Hawaiian and California coasts from undergraduate through post-doctoral work. Danny received his B.S. in Biochemistry from Brigham Young University-Hawaii in 2004. He completed his PhD from the interdisciplinary Biomolecular Sciences and Engineering Program at the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2014. There he was advised by Daniel E. Morse working on marine biomaterials, particularly the adaptive optical properties of squid skin. He went on to complete a postdoc in the Marine Science department at UCSB, in the lab of Herbert Waite in the field of bioadhesion and loadbearing marine biomaterials. Since 2018, he has been teaching chemistry in the science department at BYU-Hawaii, currently as an adjunct professor. Danny is a divemaster, surfer, and fisherman and is passionate about spending time in the marine environment. It is his dream to give back to the ocean, and Kuleana provides that path.
CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF OUTREACH
Born and raised in La’ie, on the island of Oahu, Kapono spent most of his life in and around the ocean. He graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1998, and received his BS in Technology Management from Utah Valley University. He has served as a Firefighter/EMT with the Honolulu Fire Department for over 12 years, where he received training as a rescue SCUBA diver, rescue water craft instructor, and water safety instructor. Kapono has noticed the effects of extreme weather, pollution, and overfishing, resulting in a decline in the overall health of our reefs and beaches. “Kuleana Coral allows me to make a change for the future of our oceans and the future of my community.”
Board of Directors
Michelle Van Tassel
BOARD OF DIRECTORS, SECRETARY
Michelle is a freelance writer and instructor of writing and literature. She has worked in curriculum development for public primary schools and university-level courses. As both a writer and an editor, she has worked in technical writing, creative writing, and grant writing. Her interdisciplinary graduate work in American Studies focused on race and ethnicity in American literature and culture. Michelle is particularly interested in the intersections of culture and science that relate to the Hawaiian coast as experienced by both locals and mainlanders. An avid scuba diver, she is committed to advocating for the coral reefs.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS, TREASURER
Stan was born in Hilo, Hawaii, and has called Aiea, Oahu home for 40 years. He is a lifetime surfer, who spent his early years as a competitive surfer blessed to call legends like Ben Aipa his coach and mentor, which translated to his love and understanding of the ocean and Hawaii's beaches and breaks. Stan was also influenced in his early adult years by his dedication to hula and halau life, which integrated his love for the ocean with Hawaiian culture, values, language, and an understanding of aloha 'aina to instill a sense of kuleana to generations past, present, and future. Stan brings his life experiences to raising his three teenage children who are learning and growing into the next generation of ocean lovers and stewards. Stan is currently a Fire Captain in the Honolulu Fire Department and has served in both Operations and Administration roles, including Grants Management, Communications Unit Leader for Incident Management Teams, Department Emergency Coordinator with the Department of Emergency Management, and HFD liaison for the Koolaupoko Community Resilience project. Stan has BA in Economics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and was the founder and owner of a successful freight forwarding company for 17 years (1997 -2014).
Matt Parry, PhD
BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AT LARGE
Matt currently works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration division in Hawaii. He received his PhD in Marine science from the University of Hawaii Manoa and his B.S. from University of California Los Angeles. He has now worked for almost 20 years in the field of environmental management and conservation, with both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources. He has published numerous scientific papers and presented his work globally. He is an accomplished scuba diver, underwater
Coral reefs around the world are facing rapid changes and threats to survival, particularly as a result of anthropogenic stressors. Globally, the majority of reefs show extensive losses in coral cover and an associated decrease in fish stock and biodiversity. In Hawaii, coral cover is sharply decreasing due to extensive bleaching events and rising temperatures. According to a status report published by NOAA in 2018, Oahu’s coral condition is considered “impaired,” with the highest climate score and lowest fish score of the archipelagic assessment (Coral Reef Condition Report, 2018). Since Oahu is home to nearly 1 million residents and received six million visitors in 2019, the pressure of human density is disproportionately impacting corals and reef ecosystems compared to other islands.
Yet, our communities globally and on Oahu are heavily reliant on corals and the ecosystem services they provide. As the base of the reef ecosystem, corals supply food and shelter for species that are fished recreationally and for subsistence by our communities. As we look for bottom-up strategies to sustain fisheries, coral restoration and regeneration methods are effective nature-based solutions. Similarly, coral reefs are economic drivers for our tourism industry, which contributes billions of dollars to our state annually and sustains thousands of jobs for residents. A valuation assessment from 2004 quantified the benefits of coral reefs at $360 million per year for Hawaii’s economy (Cesar and Beukering, 2004), and the authors go on to note this is an underestimate as it excluded the intrinsic value of corals, which is deeply intertwined to Hawaiian culture. A more recent peer-reviewed study commissioned by NOAA, revealed the estimated total economic value the American people hold for the coral reefs of the main Hawaiian Islands is $33.57 billion. In the Kumulipo, or Hawaiian creation chant, life began with a coral polyp (ko’a). Undeniably, corals underpin the way of life in Hawaii, on top of the ecological and economic benefits they generate.
As an island region, Hawaii is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of the climate emergency. Our coastlines and communities already suffer from the impacts of extreme weather events, warming temperatures, wave impact, flooding, and sea level rise. Coral reefs serve as natural storm barriers, protecting our coastlines from erosion and climate-related hazards. As we look to build climate resilience locally, investing in nature-based solutions like coral reef restoration, recovery, and response capacity will yield compounding results to our coastal communities and ecosystems.
Kuleana Coral Restoration is the first nonprofit working on coral restoration and monitoring in West Oahu (Ahupua’a Honouliuli), offering an opportunity to engage the local, underserved community in place-based conservation and restoration work. West Oahu is known to house the highest representation by percentage of Native Hawaiians, with locations like Waianae, Makaha, and Nanakuli estimated at over 50% representation according to Civil Beat’s interpretation of U.S. Census Data. Historically and systemically, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have faced financial, cultural, geographic barriers to STEM-related work (Kerr et al. 2018), resulting in underrepresentation in marine science and conservation work. The community-based dive program we are proposing aims to provide these groups in particular with training and conservation opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible, while progressing capacity efforts locally to restore reefs, build climate resilience, revitalize ecosystems, engage communities, and many more associated co-benefits.
"More reef, more fish"
Kuleana Coral Restoration (KCR) was established in 2019 by a diverse team of Native Hawaiians, scientists, and ocean advocates determined to restore the degraded coral reefs surrounding the island of Oahu in the State of Hawaii. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, our mission is to restore Hawaii’s coral reefs to cultivate resilient marine ecosystems for the enrichment of culture, environment, and economy for the people of Hawaii. Using a combination of modern scientific research methods and traditional indigenous management techniques, KCR works to achieve a goal of abundant reef ecosystems in pursuit of ‘āina momona (rich and fertile land and sea). In Hawaiian, “kuleana” means “responsibility,” and implies a deep reciprocal relationship between the person who is responsible and the resource that they are responsible for. The community dive program we are proposing is part of our kuleana to our reefs, ocean, and people.