Keōmoku shoreline, Lana'i Island

Kuahiwi a Kai: Lānaʻi Watershed Conservation Program Announces Four New Grants for 2021

Launched in 2019, the program demonstrates the benefits of a landscape-level watershed approach to sustainable land management and community stewardship in Hawai‘i.

Keōmoku shoreline | Credit: Pūlama Lānaʻi

LĀNA‘I CITY, Hawai‘i (July 29, 2021) –The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with Pūlama Lāna‘i, today announced four new grants awarded from the Kuahiwi a Kai: Lānaʻi Watershed Conservation Program. Kuahiwi a Kai was established in 2019 to strategically preserve and enhance Lāna‘i’s unique natural and cultural resources from mauka to makai (from the top of the mountain down to the ocean), while encouraging community engagement and shared stewardship. Additional information about Kuahiwi a Kai can be found at the newly updated program page.

Funding and support for these grants are provided by NFWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pūlama Lāna‘i, the State of Hawai‘i and private contributors. The four grants announced today total $471,000 and will be matched by $547,000, for a total conservation impact of more than $1 million. These four projects will: 

  • Install the first segment of ungulate-control fencing to manage invasive deer and sheep populations
  • Develop and implement a community-based program centered on hunting as stewardship
  • Deploy advanced remote-sensing technology to obtain high-resolution imaging of focal coral reef systems 
  • Develop video documentaries to capture and share stories of Lāna‘i’s people, their historical interactions with the land and lessons learned to communicate the current conservation needs on the island

“We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation on this landmark restoration project that will help build a sustainable future for our island and people,” said Kurt Matsumoto, president of Pūlama Lāna‘i. “The grantees in this round of funding strike a good balance between technology-based research, on-the-ground implementation to address years of overgrazing, and most importantly, community engagement that will encourage a greater sense of stewardship for Lāna‘i’s lands.”

Over the past 150 years, overgrazing and mismanagement of introduced ungulates has led to unnatural erosion patterns on the island of Lānaʻi. Excessive erosion continues to destroy terrestrial habitats essential to native flora and fauna, bury historic cultural sites near the coast, and smother the island’s coral reefs and white sand beaches with sediment. Overgrazing has also led to an invasion of non-native plants that further degrade native habitats and alter watershed hydrology.

“Partnerships that bridge the public and private sectors are one of the keys to achieving long-term conservation success,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “The Kuahiwi a Kai program provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a landscape-level watershed approach to sustainable land management and community stewardship in Hawai‘i. Effective, large-scale conservation efforts are vital to building a better and more resilient future for our nation, both for wildlife species and communities such as those on Lāna‘i.”

Through the program, NFWF and partners hope to achieve the following goals:

  • Reduce sediment runoff to nearshore reefs
  • Restore native vegetation to improve watershed health
  • Protect and enhance endangered and endemic species populations
  • Improve habitat and predator management for Hawaiian petrel (‘ua‘u)
  • Improve landscape quality for local community and visitors through preservation of nearshore resources, beaches and cultural sites
  • Increase community conservation ethic and involvement in landscape protection efforts

“This partnership with NFWF is unique to the entire state of Hawai‘i as it provides a landscape approach across one land manager,” said Michelle D. Bogardus, assistant field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Working together, the landowner, communities, government agencies and conservation nonprofits can implement durable conservation projects that generate measurable benefits across entire watersheds.” 

Since the program’s inception, NFWF has awarded nearly $1.5 million in grants to 12 projects that support the goals and objectives of the program’s landscape-level approach to conservation. These projects span 20,000 contiguous acres of unique habitat essential for native species that are federally listed as threatened or endangered. The grants will generate more than $1.2 million in grantee matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $2.7 million.

About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 5,000 organizations and generated a conservation impact of $6.8 billion. Learn more at

About Pūlama Lāna‘i

Pūlama Lāna‘i is committed to redefining the Hawaiian Island of Lāna‘i as a sustainable community by creating new opportunities driven by agriculture, resource management, conservation and more. Enhancing and perpetuating the island’s diverse species and fragile ecosystem through game management, natural species preservation, watershed management, erosion control, coastal resources and fisheries management, invasive species control and conservation education, Pūlama Lāna‘i brings an integrated and comprehensive approach to protect and manage Lāna‘i’s natural resources to preserve Hawaiian culture and enhance the lives of Lāna‘i residents. Learn more at

Summary of Funded Projects to Date

Watershed Restoration

To address the environmental challenges facing Lāna‘i, the Kuahiwi a Kai program will install landscape-level, ungulate-proof fencing, mauka to makai. Building ungulate-proof fences is essential to effectively manage the large numbers of invasive ungulates that are grazing and trampling native vegetation within the program area. 

With program funding, an ungulate-proof fence and feasibility study was initiated in 2020 to identify, map and provide cost estimates and implementation plans for possible fence alignments along the northern and southern borders of the program area, as well as interior fencing options to create management units. Additional projects awarded to the U.S. Geological Survey and The Nature Conservancy in 2020 will determine the best fencing locations by:

  • Mapping, modeling and monitoring terrestrial sources of fine-sediment pollution to identify sedimentation hot spots
  • Developing native and non-native vegetation classification maps and conducting a vegetation change analysis to inform priority areas for protection and invasive-plant control
  • Collecting benthic, fish and nearshore water quality data to determine sediment impacts on the ecosystem and establish baseline conditions for nearshore coral reefs.

In concert with these grants, an ungulate management and community stewardship project was awarded to the Lāna‘i Culture and Heritage Center in March 2021 to develop and implement a community-based hunting program for residents to participate in active game management to begin reducing the number of invasive animals within the program area. The program will also provide workshops and training opportunities for participants to learn about Kuahiwi a Kai’s unique bio-cultural landscape.

Coral Reef Conservation

Coral reefs play an integral part of life in Lāna‘i, supporting subsistence use, cultural practices and recreation. The island’s interconnected coral reefs provide vital habitats for a colorful array of fish, sea turtles, crustaceans and other marine species. Unfortunately, warming ocean temperatures and sedimentation have weakened coral species’ ability to compete with algae for hard substrate, compromising coral health and resilience to climate-related stressors such as coral bleaching. Effective watershed management, from mauka to makai, can reduce sediment and nutrient runoff to build coral reef resilience.

Working with local partners, the community and an internship-engagement program for students, Ridge to Reefs’ 2020 grant will develop and implement low-cost, near-term sediment and nutrient reduction strategies to limit runoff to the reef. The project will install green infrastructure and pilot novel nature-based solutions to inform future largescale restoration actions.

While many of the reef flats surrounding the island of Lāna‘i are severely degraded by sediment deposition from the land, there are few mapping data to understand where the sediment impacts are greatest and which drainages are the largest contributors.

In 2021, NFWF awarded a grant to the University of Miami, in partnership with NASA, to fly select portions of the Keōmoku coast with a next-generation imaging technology called Fluid Lensing (FluidCam) and Multispectral Imaging, Detection and Active Reflectance (MiDAR) to image underwater reefs at a centimeter-scale. These high-resolution images of the reef ecosystem, coupled with U.S. Geological Survey’s Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) terrestrial mapping and sedimentation evaluation grant, will provide a crucial bridge to understanding the impacts of sedimentation on the reef. In addition, the tracking of rainfall, stream and tidal levels through the University of Hawai‘i’s 2020 grant will provide real-time information on watershed processes affecting the nearshore coral reefs that will be used to support a long-term monitoring plan for the program. 

Community Engagement

Lāna‘i’s human community is a vibrant part of the island’s landscape. Active community participation and engagement in conservation stewardship is critical to protecting and preserving Lāna‘i’s natural and cultural resources for future generations. Projects funded through the program strive to integrate the community and its rich cultural history to foster a sense of shared responsibility and pride for this special landscape.

In March 2021, to facilitate communication about the program and encourage community stewardship, a video documentary project was awarded to record conservation progress, as well as share the history, human impact and environmental threats to the watershed and native species. A local filmmaker, Anthony Pacheco, will work with students on Lāna‘i to produce a series of videos to nurture present and future generations to care for the land.

Important actions to effectively address landscape-level impacts include supporting community-led management of ungulate populations and the utilization and sharing of valuable local knowledge. The program’s 2021 ungulate management and community stewardship grant will develop educational opportunities for residents to learn about the program, improve their knowledge of the island’s natural history and cultural heritage, and engage in restoring and preserving the bio-cultural landscape.

Additional conservation projects awarded incorporating community outreach and participation include:

  • Utilization of NASA’s NeMO-Net game, a new online machine-learning application, to engage Lāna‘i’s community in mapping baseline reef conditions. The state-of-the-art 3D-imaging products of the reef ecosystem using NASA’s high-resolution FluidCam and MiDAR technologies will be made available to the public through this engagement opportunity.
  • Community workshops hosted by the University of Hawai‘i to build, deploy and monitor real-time water sensors to track rainfall, surface water levels through stream gauges and nearshore water levels through tide gauges at strategic coastal sites. The project will provide opportunities for local students, teachers, conservation organizations and interested citizen scientists to fill data gaps, while demonstrating the methodology of the program’s landscape-level approach.
  • Student internships will be utilized to engage youth and young adults in planning and implementation activities relating to early action sediment and nutrient-reducing practices in the fall/winter of 2021. 

A complete list of the grants funded through the Kuahiwi a Kai program is available here.    



Rob Blumenthal, 202-857-0166,