BWW Reviews: Experiencing the Future at the 20th Annual Hawaii Conservation Conference
Over the years, the HCC has relinquished its exclusivity to those who could afford it's pricey entrance fee. Today, it embraces a commitment to commuity by offering a jewel of an event as the center piece of it's three day long extravaganza, which is free to the public. It is this commitment to inclusion of all the people of Hawaii which will insure it's success in the future, and it is to this day I turn my attention for my review.
Good fortune smiled upon me as I entered the vast prism-like structure that is the Hawaii Convention Center, for I bumped into one of the "movers and shakers" of the Hawaiian environmental community (Annette Kaohelaulii) who pointed me in all the right directions and then told me she would hunt up VIPs for me to interview. I didn't see her again but I made the acquaintance of a lot of wonderful, caring people. At an event like this, anyone who shows up is a VIP in my book.
We rode the escalator up to the 4thfloor, and stepped into a spacious, sun-dappled expanse filled with the rich and melodious tones of the afternoon's first entertainer (Kawika Kahiopo) - a real veteran of the Hawaiian music scene - charting 30 years of performance in the islands. Kawika soloed on acoustic guitar, alternating between familiar covers and Hawaiian songs. As I listened to him throughout the afternoon, I noted he often made the covers sound more lush and beautiful than the original renditions, including tender versions of "Teach Your Children Well" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". The announcer noted that not only is he a Na Hoku Hanohano award winner, but a community leader, on the board of both the North Shore Land Trust and the Kokua Foundation.
Not long after my arrival, I found myself literally rubbing elbows with that maven of cetacean murals, Wyland (he couldn't shake hands because they were wet with paint). His part in the festivities was to help the children create an ocean mural; sort of an unfolding performance art piece to entertain the keikis and onlookers, alike. He informed me that he has lived in Hawaii for thirty years now and is enjoying the "quiet life" on the North Shore.
Looking around at all that was going on, I suddenly felt humbled by the task of presenting an article that would encompass the vastness of this event. The vibe was tranquil, with small groups of people drifting among the exhibits, and I followed suit. There were several main booths out in the open area, and (I was later to discover) many more within the adjacent conference halls.
The first booth I drifted past was the National Park Service, the center-piece being a touch screen to educate viewers of Hawaii's park status among the Nation's Parks in areas like landscaping dynamics, birds, fish, climate, etc. and beau coup brochures, maps and graphs for the taking.
Next booth was NOAA Fisheries Service, where I was emboldened to introduce myself. Presenters Jennifer Metz and Shelley Steele, when asked for a phrase that was thematic of the event, proceeded to brandish hand signs that looked like ping pong paddles printed with the phrase: "Science is Cool!". Shelley was explaining to another patron that there are approximately 83 species of coral that are proposed to be listed under the "Endangered Species Act". NOAA is working closely with the Fisheries Dept. to maintain healthy ocean ecosystems.
Moving on to the the Pacific Islands and Wildlife Service booth, I noted the theme here was biodiversity. They had a gorgeous back panel displaying many animal species unique to Hawaii. I noticed that many of the booths sported signature items to attract kids. This booth had paste on tattoos of endangered species.
I chatted with Public Affairs Specialist Kenneth Foote who informed me that Hawaii contains a staggering 25 % of all the species categorized in the United States. As a result, Hawaii also happens to have the largest number of endangered species. Because Hawaii is so isolated from other land masses, species have evolved with few defenses to predation from non-native species. The PIWS is one of 2 agencies responsible for enforcing the endangered species act. Their two primary objectives are to 1. List Species, and 2. Recover them. They are working with private land owners, creating incentives for them to set up protections.
Another fascinating fact: Hawaii encompasses eleven of twelve possible "life zones" in the world. Talk about diversity!
I then visited the Hawaiian Plant Booth manned by nursery owner, Rick Barboza. Rick's booth sported some selections of Hawaii's unique plant species: a native hibiscus, Lehuas, Nalus, Native Ferns, Purple Flowering Pohinahina, etc. Rick informed me that his nursury offers one hundred fifity varieties of native plants, including thirty different varieties of taro ! He has been in the native plant nursury biz for twelve years, and offers landscaping services as well. He and his crew will go in and create a beautiful indiginous landscape for you (what a terrific idea) and a great way to insure survival of rare plant species in Hawaii.
I decided to descend to the lower level at this point, and at the information booth was introduced to the chief organizer, HCA Executive Director Lilia Noori. She had only a moment to say "Hello", but immediately directed me to seek out Momi Musick who – it turns out – has been a key force in boosting community involvement in the event through her efforts to broaden the scope of interest, incorporating art, film, music, crafts, and culture. I peeked into the vast shadowy room 311 where a film was just wrapping up, and made note of when the next one was to start, and then made my ascent back to the upper level in search of Momi.
It didn't take long to find her, she was standing near the music stage chatting with fellow organizers. I introduced myself and explained why I was at the event, and she immediately provided a wealth of information about how it all came together, (I must confess, I just wasn't able to keep up with all the wealth of information she provided). Momi first encouraged me to research the nonproffit organization, Malama Hawaii (http://malamahawaii.org). Founded in 2001, this environmental network focuses on education, social justice and the economy in Hawaii. A new project/"brainchild" is Malama Hawaii Creative which is an effort to foster ongoing community involvement and education. Momi has been tireless in her efforts over the years, hosting numerous grass roots events. Needless to say, I could not imagine a more well thought out community event as this one. I hope it provides a template for future eco/community-friendly efforts. She then introduced me to the public relations team, Kristin Jackson and Tara Zirker who have been beating the drum about this event through various media outlets.
Momi encouraged me to continue exploring, "There are over fourty booths!" she said, and then took off on her next errand.
I ventured in to the conference room behind the muisc stage and was staggered by the immenisty of the room and plethora of cultural, scientific, artisan, and craft offerings within. There were lau hala weavers with large palm fronds spread out behind them as they spliced leaves into lovely bowls. There were beautifully crafted, ornate poi bounders, delicacies made from local plants, a multitude of science exhibits, painters, sculpters - a veritable kasbah - teeming with activity as more of the local community filtered in for the evening's festivities.
It was almost time for the next film, and so I ventured back downstairs to what was billed as "Conservation in Motion: A Film Festival". There were five offerings for the film series, and I caught the "Living Jewels: The Rare Plants of Hawaii" film. This short was refreshingly celebrity free; more accurately, the lucious, tropical fronds, fruits and silvery-feathered leaves of the local flora where the celebrities, as they were reverently documented by the two horticulturists interviewed for the film. Some essential themes I took away from this film: the special endurance to extreme conditions due to the harsh environment of salt and limited resources and land space in the islands has profoundly shaped the ecology of Hawaiian plants, how specialized so many of the species are, and how so often they are found only on one land space (like the island of Koho'o lawe) or so exclusive as to be found only in a few valleys throughout the islands. The film concludes by stressing how valuable it is to propagate local species in home gardens; not by taking them from the ecosystem, but by obtaining seeds or plants from nursuries attempting to restore these rare and often endangered species.
To be continued.....
For more information, visit hawaiiconservation.org/activities.