Jenny Yagodich

Hawai’i’s Marine Life Conservation Districts

By Lauren Rolland

Living across from Ke Iki beach, the stretch of coastline between Waimea Bay and Rock Piles has become my backyard. The ocean here is known to create drastic coastline changes, so my day-to-day activities adjust with the seasons.

pupukea-conservation-districtDuring the wintertime, Shark’s Cove is a wind and wave beaten bay, where the waters are whipped to a froth and swimming is an absolute no-go, yet the entertainment at Ke Iki and Waimea shorebreak is like having a 180-degree view of extreme sports on demand. Come summertime, the ocean transitions into a calm playground that attracts locals and visitors, and the myriad of marine life becomes an underwater world within reach.

I explore this shoreline almost every day, and have begun to take notice of the little details. Like a new sign popping up at the Waimea Bay beach entrance, or the Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea tent that posts up every Saturday at Shark’s Cove, or the fact that no one is seen fishing in the waters surrounding Three Tables. I also realize that given the amount of time I spend in and around these areas, there is still plenty I don’t know about it.

This stretch of coast is actually protected as a Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD), which stretches from the Wananapaoa Islets (the two small islands off Waimea Bay’s south side) to Kulalua Point (the flat rocky point that separates Shark’s Cove from Ke Iki beach).

In fact, there are eleven MLCDs in the state of Hawai’i:


– Hanauma Bay (101 acres, est. 1967)

– Pupukea (over 100 acres, est. 1983)

– Waikiki (76 acres, est. 1988)



– Manele-Hulopoe (309 acres, est. 1976)

– Molokini Shoal (approx. 77 acres, est. 1977)

– Honolua-Mokuleia Bay (45 acres, est. 1978)

Big Island

– Kealakekua Bay (315 acres, est. 1969)

– Lapakahi (146 acres, est. 1979)

– Waialea Bay (35 acres, est. 1985)

– Old Kona Airport (217 acres, est. 1992)

– Waiopae Tidepools (est. 2003)

Each MLCD has its own set of rules and regulations, and as Hawai’i’s beach goers and ocean enthusiasts, it is our responsibility to know what they are. We’re currently facing one of the greatest threats of our time – the extinction of ocean creatures and habitats – and as lovers of Hawai’i and its coastline, it’s time we learned and shared the ways we can all help.

Which is where the volunteer-based North Shore non-profit Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea comes into play. Geared toward educating the residents and visitors to the Pūpūkea Marine Life Conservation District about the importance of protecting this area, Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea works hand-in-hand with the community and government partners to mālama (take care of) the fish, invertebrates, coral reefs and other marine life that call this area home.

“We are a very unique organization in a unique community,” explains Jenny Yagodich, North Shore resident, volunteer and Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea Director of Educational Programs. “We’re a very small, grassroots organization with a pretty specific goal.” The mission is to replenish and sustain the natural and cultural resources of the Pūpūkea and Waimea ahupua‘a for present and future generations through active community stewardship, education and partnerships.

After learning about Hawai’i’s various MLCDs, I found myself wondering what the overall purpose was behind creating them. “We’re at a point where we are no longer following a Hawaiian version of resource management,” Jenny describes. What this means is that if we keep going at the rate we’re at (over fishing, destroying coral reefs and not caring for marine life), there will be nothing left to enjoy of Hawai‘i’s underwater world for future generations.

Marine Life Conservation Districts rebuild fish stocks, which spill over into the surrounding areas and help maintain healthy fish, coral reefs and other marine life. MLCDs also provide a refuge for marine life to grow and reproduce so that there will be resources for future generations, keeping the fishermen of today happy and the ancient sport of fishing alive and relevant for Hawaiians and locals. “The fish don’t know boundary lines,” says Jenny. “So by creating these MLCDs, we’re helping to increase and restore the natural resources that made traditional Hawaiian culture so sustainable.”

“We always say ‘lucky we live Hawai’i’ and one of the things that makes us so lucky is the beauty of our near shore waters,” Jenny continues. “While perfect waves and endless water activities are often highlighted and get most of the attention, it’s truly the amazing underwater scene that deserves a closer look.”

Many locals and visitors to Hawai’i, surfers included, don’t realize that the reef is what causes waves to break. The intricacies of these reefs create the hollow pits of Pipe, the long lefts and rights of Rockies and the fun and gentles waves of Waikiki. When reefs die from ecosystem imbalance, it crumbles away and thus changes the waves and how they break. Image if Pipeline’s reef eventually died off? Every aspect of the ocean – from the coral polyps to the limu and shells to the reef fish and pelagics – plays a role in balancing the fragile ecosystems of our seas.


Given the do’s and don’t’s of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, and all the other MLCDs in Hawai’i, it’s important to know and understand your rights but also maintain a healthy perspective about it. Just because you can fish from Waimea’s shores doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do, especially if you don’t intend to use the fish.

“The Hawaiian people were able to manage our fragile resources by imposing strict kapu (rules) that ensured a healthy balance between man and nature,” describes Jenny. “And I would love nothing more than to see these resources replenished enough for our community to go back to a more traditional Hawaiian lifestyle.”

Whether you surf, fish, dive or swim, one of the best ways you can help is to simply volunteer your time. Check out Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea’s website at for MLCD information, to find out how you can volunteer, make a charitable contribution, support the Ka Papa Kai Marine Science for Youth programs, or simply spread the word about protecting our ocean resources! And be sure to check out DLNR’s website ( for the full details on all of Hawai’i’s MLCDs.



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