How Mo'olelo Shapes Coastal Stewardship

How Mo'olelo Shapes Coastal Stewardship

Written and Photographed by Jasmine Buerano

On a small island in the heart of the Pacific Ocean lives a community that gives life to the word “storytelling” or mo’olelo. Through how they support one another during times of need, care for one another when no one is watching, and even down to the ways in which they share practices of sustenance, this community of Molokai is the epitome of mo’olelo in action, driven not by recognition, but by a love for their home.

CommUnity in adversity

Storytelling has existed since time immemorial, using oral communication and traditions to depict and record life experiences, lessons, culture, and more. It is because of mo’olelo that we have the chance to learn lessons of stewardship here in Hawai’i that only become more rich over time. Year after year, we are invited to visit Molokai with a small dedicated crew made up of activists, scientists, and artists to be part of that stewardship, sharing those moments of our time there as we go.

Todd Yamashita carrying buoys at Mo'omomi Cleanup.

Heavy hearts and resilience

The amount of debris that we collect with our friends and partners there can range anywhere from 40,000 pounds to only 5,000 pounds in a single visit, but the mission of going there isn’t solely about removing the most amount of waste possible. A large part of our purpose is to water and sow relationships with our friends there. This trip became a reminder of the value people and mo’olelo play in building resilience and stewardship throughout communities in the work we do. With a heavy heart, we witnessed from afar one of the heaviest tragedies to shoulder Hawai’i. Just a day before our trip, a fire tore through Lāhainā town on our neighbor island of Maui, becoming the deadliest wildfire in the history of the U.S. in over a century.

Though difficult, we continued to ground into community action on Molokai to create an impact that aligns with our mission, while also doing our best to share resources and stories to help support the Maui community. Even if we couldn’t be in Lahaina to support, our crew chose to continue the boots on the ground work throughout Molokai. 

"There is no person, group, or organization in these islands and beyond that isn’t trying to understand their place in supporting the efforts to help our ‘ohana on Maui in this tragedy. Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i is no different. As we all try to find our kuleana within these spaces, please continue to be kind to all who are finding their pathways through grief and support."
- Rafael Bergstrom

8,000 Pounds of debris removed by volunteers

Cleanup crew removing ghost nets from boulders.

Throughout the week, over 75 volunteers helped us lead the cleanup efforts, removing 8,000 pounds of marine debris from these coastlines. Millions of pieces of microplastic, as well as thousands of mesoplastic, and macroplastic like oyster spacers, hagfish traps, and single-use plastic products were found hidden under rocks, in caves, and wedged into some of the most hard to reach places. With the help of the crew at Pu’u O Hōkū Ranch, the Yamashita and Poepoe ‘Ohanas, Kūpeke Loko I’a, Nature Conservancy Hawai’i, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and other community partners, we were able to remove 23 supersacks of debris from areas throughout the island.

Re(learning) tour at an elementary school on Molokai.

In addition to the reactive impact we made, 258 students and 11 different classes across Molokai were reached through interactive presentations using the tool of imagination and stories to help students connect to ‘āina and community. It the action taken from mo'olelo that shapes how we engage people around stewardship of our land and ocean.

Though a shared feeling of grief blankets Hawai’i during this time of healing for our Maui ‘ohana, we are deeply moved by the mo’olelo in action taken by the Molokai community. Even as they removed debris with us, they still supported the Maui ‘ohana with boats filled with essential needs and even through chants of resilience and healing across the ocean channels. Though our time here each year is filled with long days and a short week, we always leave with important lessons learned:

  • We can find purpose in the action we take and be a conduit for change, showing up for our community where we’re at and with what we have.
  • Stories are the foundation of hope; they can be used to shape the world we want to live in as we work to create a world of inspired people, clean beaches, and healthy coastlines.
  • Impact stretches beyond numbers in a spreadsheet of how much debris we removed. What really matters is the lasting impact of education and community in cultivating a deeper understanding of ‘āina and fostering stewardship among future generations.
Group photo at Mo'omomi, Molokai.