Diving into Pa'ia Bay with Oceanographer, Andrea Kealoha
Andrea Kealoha is a diver, professor, and passionate oceanographer. She was born and raised in Pa’ia, Maui where her childhood inspired her to pursue a career in academia. She grew up surfing at Ho’okipa, was taught how to use a speargun by her father, and always came back from family dives ready to feed everyone fish. 7 generations of her family have lived in Pa'ia and today, she still knows it to be her family’s grounds. “To me, the importance and connection of the family and culture to the ocean is all one,” she said.
Andrea Kealoha sitting at a bench in Pa'ia Bay Beach on June 21, 2023. This is where she shared her childhood stories and reminisced of the days when her dad's side of the family (12 brothers and sisters) hosted family parties and luaus. (KaiAloha Supply / Sophia Ramos)
At a very young age, Kealoha begged to join her dad fishing, but was always denied since fishing was traditionally seen as a man’s job. Eventually, he allowed her onto the boat, but in the first couple of years, only let Kealoha hold the line of dead fish. “That’s how I was introduced to these traditions. First I learned by watching and then doing. This is also how I got introduced to diving,” Kealoha said. She feels connected to Pa’ia because this is where her dives would start and they would go as far as Baldwin Beach.
Her persistence to be part of familial traditions developed into life lessons she learned from her father. They used to sit and check the water at Pa’ia Beach before their dives. After staring at the ocean for what seemed like hours, Kealoha would get impatient. Little did she know that her dad was actually teaching her how to kilo, how to observe: to build a relationship with the environment, to understand how the currents are moving, what the waves are doing, and eventually be familiar with predicting the conditions on her own. At the same time, this is when her dad shared what the ocean was like for him growing up: an ocean filled with abundant, diverse species that needed to be protected. In that moment, Kealoha felt helpless because of the immediate action she wanted to take in resolving how the ocean was cared for.
Kealoha wanted to have a seat at the table with people who made decisions on how limited resources are managed on Maui. In order to do this, she decided to get a degree in global environmental science at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. Now, she finally has a seat at that table to not only help make these decisions, but to push for ways management can develop policies that are better informed by science.
Today, Andrea Kealoha is the director of the water quality lab at the University of Hawai'i Maui College where she runs research and education grants, builds community partnerships, and works with organizations that monitor for water quality. In August, she will be an assistant professor in environmental oceanography at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa where she will continue to implement research, teaching, and service throughout her curriculum.
“If there’s one thing I want my students to take away from my classroom, it’s that I don’t want them to be intimidated by science. I want them to learn about the ocean in a way that is fun and of course, taking only what they need and giving back to our land,” Kealoha said.