Conservation Conference Spotlights Cultural, Natural Restoration Efforts

posted in: October 2010 | 0

The 18th annual Hawai`i Conservation Conference had a broader scope this year. With the theme “Pacific Ecosystem Management & Restoration: Applying Traditional and Western Knowledge Systems,” those who attended were given an opportunity to explore how native Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures relate to natural resource management, a subject that had only been touched on in previous conferences.

There were still the dozens of scientific talks by graduate students and veterans in the field, but there were also forums on the various ways traditional knowledge and practices are being used to address today’s problems of invasive species control and native ecosystem restoration, among other things.

As the U.S. Forest Service’s Christian Giardina said on the opening day, “We need to build partnerships with Pacific Island leaders.”

Keynote speaker Aroha Te Pareake Mead of New Zealand pointed out that so many of the world’s most endangered species are in the South Pacific. “This is a problem on our doorsteps,” she said.

The classic idea of a conservationist is someone who is passionate, highly skilled, and singularly focused on nature rather than on people, she said. But that kind of focus is not enough, she argued, and building partnerships with a wide range of groups, especially indigenous people, is necessary.

Contrary to the “NGO perspective” that conservation will suffer if people are allowed in protected areas, Mead argued that the “nature without people” approach doesn’t work and merely leads to an elitist form of knowledge. It also can’t be maintained in today’s difficult financial environment, she added.

“It comes down to sharing power,” she said.

When asked during one forum about how integral culture is to conservation, Kawika Winter, who heads the Limahuli botanical garden on Kaua`i, said, “All these things are so integral, and a huge part is finding the best and brightest, those families that are still keeping traditions. The sad thing is, we’re creating positions faster than we can fill them.”

A Broader Vision

From Winter’s work at Limahuli to the Puanui community agriculture project in North Kohala to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ plans to restore 56,000 acres of forest on the slopes of Mauna Kea, it was clear from the conference presentations that native Hawaiians and other indigenous people are doing much more than merely collaborating with resource managers to protect natural resources. They are taking the lead in fostering the care of marine and terrestrial areas throughout the islands, while securing the community ties necessary to ensure a healthy environment and a thriving culture.

Kekuhi Kanahele of the Edith Kanakaole Foundation explained why restoring natural resources alone is not enough. In her abstract she states, “I ola `oe, i ola makou nei, or ‘My life is dependent on yours; your life is dependent on mine,’ defines the relationship among all components of a landscape, and is based on a deep respect for the sacredness of all that is animate or inanimate. … [W]e suggest that in order to achieve successful restoration and conservation in Hawai`i, core facets of these two management paradigms [western and traditional] need to be integrated to effectively embrace the biophysical, social, cultural and spiritual.”

She said that there needs to be a new vernacular that incorporates both western and traditional approaches.

“In the past, it was, ‘Hawaiian science does it this way, western science does it that way,’ … It’s not two worlds, it’s one world,” she said.

In working with management agencies and communities, Kanahele said, “We’ve been talking restoration with a big ‘R’” — social, natural, economic — “and ecology with a big ‘E’ — of spirit, landscape, psyche, and communities within communities within communities within communities.”

Walking the Walk

One example of a successful holistic approach is in Waipa, Kaua`i, where Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate controls a 1,600-acre ahupua`a and Stacy Sproat Beck teaches children.

In the 1980s, KSBE planned to develop houses on the land, but families from the area, many of whom were Kamehameha Schools alumni, offered an alternative proposal: lease the land to a community group for the development of an ahupua`a learning center. KSBE bought the idea and the land has been leased to the Waipa Foundation, which Sproat directs, since the mid-1980s.

“Things worked out well. We didn’t have to go to war,” Sproat said at a forum on creating conservation and cultural alliances.

The foundation conducts programs where children tend lo`i and an organic garden, plant koa trees to enhance the watershed that feeds their lo`i, and clear the stream.

“We do all we can do in all ecosystems,” she said.

The children also make poi in a garage, enough to feed 150 local families for half the cost of supermarket poi, Sproat said, and they draw 400 to 600 people to their Tuesday farmer’s market. They’re also working on getting a community kitchen up and running.

Although their work benefits the area’s natural resources, that effort is culturally driven.

“I don’t consider myself a conservationist….We do restoration. To live our culture, we need land and places and `aina to do that,” she said.

She added, “Where our hope lies is in the kids. We’re fortunate enough to work with most Hawaiian and other families in the community. One of the main things is teaching them that `aina is that which feeds us … whether it’s making laulau … making parfaits with banana and poha or growing our food to sell at farmers market. I see us changing the future social landscape of our community.”

* * *
Fishing May Have Impacted
NWHI Monk Seal Population

Retired National Marine Fisheries Science researcher George Antonelis thinks commercial fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands might be behind the current inability of juvenile monk seals to compete with other top predators for food.

Monk seals, of which roughly 1,100 are left in the wild, are critically endangered and the species’ survival depends greatly on the survival of juvenile seals to adulthood. While they appear to be succeeding in the Main Hawaiian Islands, where there may be less competition from apex predators for food, NWHI youngsters are starving to death.

In his conference presentation, Antonelis suggested that a fishery that had targeted species that compete with monk seals for food may have allowed the monk seal population to grow at one time. He noted that up until about the mid-1980s, there was an active fishery at French Frigate Shoals, which targeted some of the area’s top predators: ulua, omilu, papio, and kahala. Coincidentally, the monk seal population spiked during that time.

When concerns arose over possible ciguatera poisoning from these fish species in the mid-1980’s, that fishery “dropped like a hot rock” and was replaced by a bottomfish fishery “that took off,” Antonelis said. And with the emergence of the bottomfish fishery, which targeted species that monk seals eat (kale kale, `opakapaka, `ehu, onaga, and gindai), the seal population in the NWHI plummeted, he noted.

The population didn’t immediately decline after the bottomfish fishery began because, Antonelis said, monk seals probably shifted their focus to other prey species, and to avoid competition with ulua, the seals began foraging in deeper waters.

Today, even though bottomfishing ceased several months ago, “the top predator system is not working for monk seals,” Antonelis said. NMFS researcher Frank Parrish is looking at the current monk seal carrying capacity of French Frigate Shoals, Antonelis said, adding that he believes it is unlikely to improve without some kind of aggressive management.

“Fishery managers unknowingly conducted a ‘fish-down’ experiment at FFS,” he said. Unfortunately, no stock assessment at FFS was done when commercial fishing was occurring and he can only look at catch and effort statistics to determine how fishing was affecting the competitor and prey stocks, which is key, he said.

In his initial analysis, “we only went on the assumption that resources are dwindling,” he said.

Monk Seal Movement

Whether it’s good or bad news is not yet clear, but sub-populations of monk seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which were thought to be isolated, actually move between regions.

New research by Thea Johanos shows that monk seals don’t often travel far from home, but some travel quite far, with the major movements being between the Necker/Nihoa area, French Frigate Shoals, and the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Johanos noted in her presentation that a seal born on Midway pupped at South Point on the Big Island and pupped five times on O`ahu. Another, born on Laysan, traveled to Kaua`i.

Regular movements between the MHI and the NWHI have profound management implications, she said, since they increase the threat of disease transmission, but also might allow for greater resiliency.

* * *
Miconia Infestation Threatens O`ahu

“People ask, ‘Why not do fiddlewood? Why do miconia when we don’t see it?’ People don’t understand how much work it takes to not see miconia,” says Rachel Neville, operations manager for the O`ahu Invasive Species Committee.

When people think of a miconia infestation in Hawai`i, they think of the Big Island or Maui, even though miconia has been on O`ahu since the 1960s. It’s rarely seen on O`ahu in part because businesses and property owners agreed more quickly than the Big Island with requests from the state Department of Agriculture to stop selling and growing miconia. Another reason is that the OISC, which works to control about a dozen invasive species, from fountain grass to coqui, spends half of its time just on miconia.

Backcountry miconia control on O`ahu began in the mid-1990s with volunteers and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. In 2001, OISC took the lead, and as of July 1, has surveyed a total of 21,370 acres by ground and 15,853 acres by air, and removed 17,887 immature plants and 75 mature trees.

The effort appears to have suppressed miconia’s spread, as only four mature trees were found in 2009 and the island has no monotypic stands.

But because miconia produces seeds that can lay dormant in soil for up to 16 years, constant vigilance is necessary. In a poster at the conference, Neville and OISC GIS expert Jean Fujikawa showed the results of a recent model Fujikawa developed that provides a conservative, yet shocking, estimate of how far and fast miconia could spread if OISC had stopped its efforts in 2007.

Between 2007 and 2009, OISC removed 5,538 immature plants and 10 mature trees. Using that as a rough baseline, Fujikawa ran the model with a beginning scenario of 10 seed-bearing trees and 380 immature plants. Under the model, the immature plants began seed production at four years old, a mere 18 seeds were dispersed randomly within 400 meters, and two seeds were randomly dispersed within 1,600 meters, which mirrors data collected by OISC on seedling dispersal ranges. Considering that a mature miconia plant can produce several million seeds a year, a dispersal of 18 seeds is conservative, to say the least.

Neville explained that the reason why the seed dispersal numbers used in the model were so low is because they lacked the computing power to do more.

Despite the conservative approach, the model showed that O`ahu could see large monotypic stands of miconia within a decade if left uncontrolled.

In year one of the model, miconia were found only in small clusters in east and south O`ahu and two isolated sites in north and central O`ahu. By year 5, the clusters in east and south O`ahu grew so large that they overlapped. By year 10, the entire windward side of the Ko`olau range from Kane`ohe to Waikâne was infested, as well as an even larger swath covering of the hills above Honolulu, including Tantalus, Mânoa, and Nu`uanu, and spilling windward toward Waimânalo and Maunawili.

Should such an infestation occur, it could put nearshore waters at risk from runoff and endanger the island’s water supply, the poster states.

To keep that from happening, OISC workers, which are supported by public and private funds, need to continue their work, hiking into remote and sometimes dangerous mountain areas and removing each miconia plant they find. Over the years, OISC staff has dipped to as few as three people and now currently stands at five, Neville said.

“Staff size varies depending on our funding support, but the important thing is that we receive steady funding. What the model shows is that one mature tree could set us back years. We have to make sure we are always surveying,“ she said.


Teresa Dawson


Volume 21, Number 4 — October 2010


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