Kia’i, a word in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) that translates to guardian or protector, is a major theme of KEEPER OF THE BAY, an environmental documentary that recently had its Hawai‘i premiere at the 43rd Hawai‘i Interational Film Festival (HIFF43). In a world where development and industrialization have often encroached upon the delicate balance of our natural ecosystems, the need to protect our environment has never been more apparent. In KEEPER OF THE BAY Cindi Punihaole, a guardian of Hawai’i’s pristine landscapes, brings to light a compelling narrative that reminds us of the importance of living in harmony with nature and passing those values down to generations to come. After decades of service to the Island of Hawai’i, she has earned the title of Keeper or Kia’i of Kahalu’u Bay. 

What is remembered by Cindi as a large pool that she used to jump and play in as a child is now one of the most shallow water assemblages of coral and home to some of the rarest species in West Hawai’i. It sits in the south Kona district at the base of an ancient ahupua’a (watershed system). Residents and visitors alike visit the bay to snorkel, and such activities combined with chemical sunscreens have done extension damage to the reef’s health. 

Although coral is typically colorful, many reefs have undergone significant levels of bleaching due to thermal stress and pollutants in the water. An estimated 30-50% of the Kona Coastline was wiped out in a matter of a year due to the widespread coral bleaching event in 2015. Like true Kahu (aids), Cindi’s team spends several days a week collecting samples and analyzing the water to mitigate the environmental dangers like in Kahalu’u Bay. If it were not for the curiosity of people like Cindi and her time, we would not have answers to questions like “What is happening to the coral reef?” “Why are they dying?” and “How can we save them?”

Do you ever wonder how you can become a Kia’i in your community? A good place to start is in contemplation of how your present actions will impact 7 generations into the future. The Kohala Center in Waimea, HI is combatting environmental gentrification with ancestral knowledge and community stewardship. Another way Cindi gives back to the land is by educating the people in her community, young and old. One of the initiatives she was a proponent of was the ban on sunscreen products containing, Oxybenzone, an intoxicant of marine life. 

In the profound journey through KEEPER OF THE BAY, Cindi Punihaole’s unwavering dedication emerges as a beacon of hope in the face of environmental challenges. As the Kia’i of Kahalu’u Bay, she not only safeguards Hawai’i’s pristine landscapes but also instills a profound understanding of our interconnectedness with the Earth and Hawaiian cultural practices. The challenges faced by the bay serve as a microcosm of global environmental concerns, emphasizing the critical need for individuals to become stewards of their communities. In the spirit of Cindi’s wisdom, the call to action resonates beyond the screen:

 “Love your land like you love your sweetheart, and it will always take care of you.” ~ Robert Kaiwa Punihaole Sr.

This simple yet profound advice encapsulates the essence of the documentary, urging us to cherish and protect our planet with the same passion and commitment we reserve for our loved ones. As viewers, we are left with a resonating call to emulate the Kia’i spirit and foster a legacy of sustainable practices and environmental guardianship for generations to come.

Olivia Trice (She/Her) is a multi-hyphenate producer and force to be reckoned with. She is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University with a BFA in Multimedia Cinematic Production & Screenwriting. With 5 years of TV/Film production experience under her belt, Olivia is credited for her work on GODZILLA VS. KONG, HAWAII FIVE-O, MAGNUM P.I., and AMERICAN IDOL. As a former ambassador of the Community & Teen’s department at Instagram, she has also spent much of her development online translating those connections into real-life impacts and business collaborations. While her artistic expression has evolved to span multi-forms of digital media, Olivia’s passions remain photography, experimental filmmaking, and storytelling through aerial dance/improvisation. As of this year, Olivia is a Wahine in Film Lab Fellow with Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking.

The HIFF ONLINE CREATIVES & CRITICS IMMERSIVE (HOCCI) program supports sustainable film criticism in Hawai‘i through mentorship and paid career opportunities. The mission of HOCCI is to broaden diversity in film criticism across the Pacific region and use influencer branding strategies to spark career opportunities in Hawai’i, not be hampered by oceans, state borders and distance, because geography is no longer a barrier. The 2023 HOCCI is supported by Critical Minded, a grant-making and learning initiative that supports cultural critics of color in the United States.

Follow Us

HIFF © 2021 All Rights Reserved