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Cindi Punihaole childhood photo.jpg

Cindi Punihaole


Kahalu'u Bay Education Center Project 


@cindipunihaole Instagram  



An ambassador guiding newcomers into a new relationship with her native Hawaii, Cindi works to embody the aloha spirit.  

Talking to CindiCindi Punihaole
00:00 / 07:25

not an expert


When Cindi got a request from University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant’s Sarah Peck to help with the ReefTeach program, at first she was reluctant. “I was very busy with other responsibilities.,” she says. “I said,’Sarah, it’s so hard.’ Before long, Cindi channeled her feelings of devastation into activity and joined The Kohala Center, once the Center agreed to help  Kahalu’u Bay and the ReefTeach project. 


Little Help, Big Crowd 

When Cindi joined the Kahalu’u Bay effort, there were six elementary school Girl Scouts helping the ReefTeach project. Today has hundreds of volunteers of many ages and professions. Over the years the number of tourists continue to remain in the thousands t a year at tiny Kahalu’u Bay, just 4.3 acres park. “The visitors were lured here by advertising of a safe, shallow turtle bay.. They were not aware of what they were doing, they didn’t know that corals were living animals.” The coral and the algae (turtle food) was being trampled. Turtles were starving to death. 


Anger or Aloha? 

It would have been easy to get angry, to act the role of coral cop. But Cindi drew on a lifelong philosophy of aloha in determining how to approach the tourist crowds. “Someone might say, ‘I hate the visitor! Look at what they’re doing! Trampling all over our grave sites and leaving their trash. ” Cindi worked to alter that attitude: “‘But do they know it’s a grave site?’  Education is the key, not only that but how you educate is the important. “It is not what you say, but how you say it.”.

Is There Any Hope? 

Getting Kahalu’u Bay designated a Hope Spot was daunting. It required a group effort, as well as discomfort.  Then Dr. Christine Zalewski reached out. “I’ve been watching you for the last 15 years,” she told Cindi. “I want to help you.” Christine’s knowledge of science and computers and her support of the ReefTeach program energized Cindi. Cindi says, “The rigor involved in actually providing the information that Dr. Sylvia Earle [of Blue Ocean] needed was overwhelming.” Without the cultural,  water quality and fish data we were collecting over the years, we would have not had a chance at the Hope Spot nomination.

changes at home: 

When Cindi's father brought his family back home to Kona from Honolulu after World War II, Hawai'i Island was very rural.  t still is, in some areas, but as Cindi grew up she watched real estate developers buy up coastal lands and turn them into resorts. That meant a big change in the islanders’ lifestyles, from subsistence (hunting and farming) to working in the tourist trades. In order to find another option, Cindi left Hawaii to pursue an education on the mainland. 


Newcomers, New Ways 

After years in New Jersey and California, Cindi returned home — and things had changed for her Kūpuna (elders) and the aloha (kind and respectful) way of life she knew as a child on the Big Island. “Coming back to Kona, I realized that a lot of things I took for granted when I was young no longer existed. The bounty in the ocean was gone. People were cutting down 200-year-old mango trees because they wanted an ocean view or a lot to build a home. Developers were cutting down the forest to build subdivisions. There wasn’t a deep understanding (as her Kūpuna had) of taking care of place.  


Try This!
Learn about Hope Spots here: Mission Blue



Changes at Home

Newcomers, New Ways

Try          This! 


Too Busy? 

Is There Any Hope? 

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