Restoring Natural Spaces: O’ahu

LEADhawaiiOahuHawaii has more endangered species of flora and fauna than any other state. Natural and recreational areas are threatened by development and poor land management. Such dire conditions seem to spell a bleak outlook for the state of Hawaii and its plants and animals, but dedicated environmental and conservation organizations, such as the Windward Ahupua’a Alliance (WAA), are working to save Hawaii’s endangered species and restore its natural spaces. And they need your kokua, or help.

Ted Rodgers, a retired University of Hawaii professor, has participated in the Windward Ahupua’a Alliance–sponsored Quick-n-Dirty Cleanup since its inception. The event, held once a month, invites community members to help clean up the Hamakua Marsh and Canal in Kailua, on the windward coast of O’ahu.

“During our first cleanup,” says Rodgers, “we found tire casings, batteries, bicycles, shopping carts and even two wallets. This is part of a continuing effort to clean up the canal and contribute to the life of Kailua.”

Most travelers are familiar with the idea of a volunteer vacation, but many don’t realize that you don’t have to commit a huge amount of time and money to give back to the place you visit. A multitude of opportunities exist on O’ahu for travelers to use their time and energy to get involved.

Groups like the Sierra Club, the O’ahu Invasive Species Committee and The Nature Conservancy have regular programs dedicated to reducing the threats and changing the dismal statistics. Groups encourage visitors to get involved, and none charge fees for a day spent on the trail or in the marsh.

The ’alae’ula, or Hawaiian moorhen, is on the endangered list. Photo by
The ’alae’ula, or Hawaiian moorhen, is on the endangered list.

The Hamakua Marsh was used for recreation before it became overgrown and polluted. It’s habitat for native Hawaiian bird species, including the ae’o, the Hawaiian stilt and the ‘alae’ula, a Hawaiian moorhen. WAA is committed to preserving the habitat of these endangered birds and restoring the waterway to a place the community can use for recreation.

“We’ve done a cleanup at least once a month somewhere in this area since we started in 2003,” says Jim Wood, of WAA. The group usually sponsors the Quick-n-Dirty Cleanup on the second Sunday of each month. Volunteers work hard for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then head to a local restaurant for appetizers and drinks. Details can be found at www.waa-hawaii.org.

Volunteering on O’ahu can often show visitors the more adventurous side of the island. Many projects require volunteers to hike to the worksites, and projects are often located in areas that are difficult to enter or off-limits for public recreation.

The Hamakua Marsh looks tidy and serene after the cleanup.
The Hamakua Marsh looks tidy and serene after the cleanup.

The O’ahu Invasive Species Committee (OISC) is dedicated to reducing and eradicating the spread of non-native and invasive species on the island of O’ahu. The OISC usually holds service trips on the second Saturday of every month to pull invasive species and re-establish native species. Participants usually need to be prepared to hike to get to the worksite. Check www.oahuisc.org for the latest information on the current trip and trail conditions. Projects are usually posted two weeks before the date of the event; to get information before that, or for more details, e-mail Rachel Neville at rneville@hawaii.edu.

The Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club occasionally organizes its own trips, and it often joins other groups on their service trips. Their Website is a wealth of information about Oahu’s pressing environmental issues and ways for individuals to make a difference.
Check the outings page on the website www.hi.sierraclub.org/ for day or weekend projects involving invasive species control, restoring native forest, trail maintenance and beach clean-up.
For longer service trips, often to other islands, check the Service Projects page on the website. These trips usually last up to three days, and can cost up to US $250. Contact individual trip leaders for more information.

The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii offers service projects during the week and on Saturdays, and it sponsors hikes and nature walks through the Honouliuli Preserve on O’ahu. Access to the reserve is limited, so it’s necessary to sign up for a volunteer project or a guided hike to see the closed area. Check their Website, www.nature.org, for more information, or contact the local chapter office at volunteerhawaii@tnc.org.

The State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) manages all of the natural and cultural resources within the state’s public lands, and relies on volunteer support to maintain them. Opportunities with DLNR include trail management, maintenance within the state parks, and cultural and historical interpretation. Each division organizes its own volunteers; visit www.state.hi.us for contact information.

“The State Trail Program welcomes inquiries, and will try to place workers with groups, especially with service projects,” says Curt Cottrell of Na Ala Hele, the DLNR organization that maintains the public trails that crisscross O’ahu. Regular trail maintenance days are usually scheduled on the fourth Saturday of every month. Check www.hawaiitrails.org for more information. The State Parks division of DLNR also takes volunteers, although it’s not a formally organized program, says Holly McEldowney, who helps coordinate volunteers. Visitors who are interested in Hawaii’s state parks can call McEldowney and she’ll try to place them with park officials who have ongoing projects, or with other volunteer groups who are organizing projects and have asked for help. She can be contacted at 808-587-0307.

The community events sections of local newspapers often contain listings about upcoming projects that need volunteers. Check out Honolulu’s daily newspapers, the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Each lists upcoming events and contact information. The Honolulu Weekly is published on Wednesdays, and often contains information about weekend events. Midweek is published twice a week, and contains inserts specific to each O’ahu community.

“I read about the event in the Midweek,” says Jan Bixler, a participant in the Quick-n-Dirty Cleanup. “I live part-time in Biloxi, Mississippi, and there are so many helpers helping to clean up the coast there, and here there are not very many. It’s nice to get out and help, and it’s a great experience.”

Jim Pennaz agrees. “It’s a good experience. It’s surprising how much stuff people throw in the canal, like plastics and bottles.” And, he says, it’s great to get outside.
As the cleanup volunteers finish their work, Rodgers points out a group of ae’o in the wetlands next to the canal. “It was a dump yard for 30 years,” he says, “but people are transitioning into thinking of it as a waterway, and the water is improving.”

Volunteering while traveling need not be expensive and time-consuming. Spend a day reducing the spread of invasive species or cleaning up bird habitat. Kokua — it’s easy to give back to the places you visit.

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