UH Hilo marine science team publishes chapter on corals in Hawaiian culture

The authors say Hawaiian knowledge of coral and coral reefs is critical to understanding how humans ought to interact with the coastal environment in Hawaiʻi.

By Susan Enright.

Green sea turtle underwater, shallow with coral reef.
Green sea turtle swimming above coral reef, Kona Coast. Photo Brocken Inaglory.


Three graduates of the tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, along with coral expert and marine science professor Misaki Takabayashi, have authored a chapter in the recently published book, Ethnobiology of Corals and Coral Reefs. Alumni Makani Gregg, Lucas Mead, and John Burns are among the authors of the chapter entitled, “Puka Mai He Koʻa: The Significance of Corals in Hawaiian Culture.”

Cover of book, green with title and authors.The book explores the ethnobiology of corals by examining the various ways in which humans, past and present, have exploited and taken care of coral and coralline habitats. The chapter done by the UH Hilo team is partially based on the work Gregg and Mead did in the marine science class Kuʻula: Integrated Science (MARE488). The course compared content, context, and methodology of Native Hawaiian and Western sciences and explored ways to apply both to understand the environment of Hawaiʻi. The students were exposed to scientific knowledge and endeavors of Native Hawaiians through field trips and also explored ways to integrate sciences to address research and management issues facing Hawaiʻi today.

“Native Hawaiian knowledge is often unwritten, and we had had a hard time referencing such important knowledge bank in written literature of science,” says Takabayashi. “As a coral biologist of Native Hawaiian ancestry, Makani Gregg led the publication of the book chapter on Hawaiian knowledge of coral and coral reefs that are critical to understanding how we humans ought to interact with our coastal environment here in Hawaiʻi.”

Takabayashi says the chapter also is a success story for UH Hilo programs designed to attract and train future scientists. In addition to the tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program where Makani, Lucas, and John were all graduate students, she notes the UH Hilo Keaholoa STEM internship program at which Makani was an intern as a marine science major, the Uluākea Faculty Development Program administered by the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center and which helped establish the Kuʻula class, and the Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) grant awarded to UH Hilo that supported the chapter’s research and publication.


About the author of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist in the Office of the Chancellor. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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