Native Hawaiians Turn to Ancient Traditions to Save Their Reefs

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HE‘EIA, HAWAII—The mountains on the windward shores of Oahu, Hawaii, are prone to clouds. On a recent breezy summer day, though, it wasn’t water vapour that filled the air, but smoke. The mangroves were aflame. Local farmers were burning the invasive species to make room for taro, a native crop Hawaiians have grown since ancient times.

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Gizmodo Media Group)

The root vegetable is more than a colouring for your purple milky bubble tea. For the Native Hawaiians who’ve learned to cultivate more than 300 varieties of the plant, it’s a cultural touchstone. Many of their creation stories stem from taro.

Today, rice paddies and sugar fields have largely replaced taro patches in Hawaii, but it’s making a serious


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