It's no secret that the island of Lana‘i has been in the national spotlight lately. Ever since Larry Ellison purchased 98% of the island in June 2012, there has been a lot of talk about the future of Lana‘i and the direction the island will take.
On an empty shoreline on the "backside" of Lana‘i, however, it seems that the core of the island's future is standing right here beside us. As part of the Maunalei Ahupua‘a Lawai‘a Camp, over two dozen youth from the island of Lana‘i have come here for the weekend to become stewards of the land. Over the course of the three-day camp, students who range from 10-15 years old will help to plant trees to stop erosion and learn about ways to become sustainable fishers. For the snorkeling and ocean portion of the event, Trilogy was proud to provide the students with snorkeling equipment and supplies, as well as send a couple of crew to help out with the camp activities.
Whereas our snorkeling tours to Lana‘i visit the southwestern coastline by Hulopo‘e, if you've ever explored Lana'i by Jeep then you might have passed by Maunalei. This deep gulch on the northeastern side of the island was once home to a short-lived sugar plantation, and it's not far from the town of Keomoku which was the island's population center in the early 1900's. Offshore from Maunalei, a fringing reef runs along the northeastern coastline and houses a lagoon of limu, and these varieties of seaweed are also accompanied by numerous ocean critters and fish.
In the days of ancient Hawai‘i, this shallow lagoon was healthy and clear and free from run-off or sediment. The residents of Lana‘i would sustain themselves on the bounty which was found along the reef, and the uplands above the shoreline housed a healthy population of native and introduced plants. Over the last century, however, introduced mammals such as deer and sheep have wreaked havoc on the higher slopes, and with fewer plants to block all of the rains the area has become susceptible to runoff. Each year, during strong winter storms, the thick red dirt on the upper slopes comes cascading down towards the shoreline. With little vegetation in the way to stop it, all of the sediment runs out to the reef and settles on the corals and critters.
Not only do the added amounts of runoff suffocate the polyps on the corals, but it makes it harder to harvest the limu which isused in a sustainable diet. More importantly, it's all too natural for complacency and difficulty to serve as unfortunate bedfellows, and if it becomes too difficult to access the reef then fishermen might simply stop trying. On an island where it's important to perpetuate the culture for future Lana‘i generations, the work to protect Maunalei is done both for the environment as well as the health of the culture.
To combat the runoff, the group has taken to constructing a series of gabions which are made from branches of kiawe trees. Held in place with large metal spikes, the "dams" are created as a natural filter for water streaming down through the valley. When the winter rains come barreling down the valley and bring with them heavy red dirt, the kiawe wood barriers will capture the dirt and allow the natural fresh water to flow through. While it might seem like just a drop in the bucket to an island-wide problem of erosion, it's an important first step in raising awareness about protecting the health of the reef.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the aim of the camp is to help educate students that the land and the ocean are intrinsically mixed. In a concept encompassing both mauka (towards the mountain) and makai (towards the sea) the health of the reef and the life that it brings all begins on the slopes of the mountain. If we don't do our part to protect the mountain, and to care for the land that rises from the sea, then we are spinning our wheels in thinking that we can ever enact a meaningful change along the shoreline.
Watching the children perform limu presses with seaweed gathered from the lagoon, it's a poignant reminder that the Earth provides us with so much more than food. The two-hours spent gathering the limu served as the student's recreation, and it teaches them values of teamwork and togetherness and communing with nature around you.
From helping to protect the island's resources to learning the traditions of their ancestors, the Maunalei Ahupua‘a Lawai‘a camp is an investment in the future of Lana‘i. Trilogy is proud to have played a role in the success of this three-day camp, and we offer a big "mahalo" to Sol Kaho‘ohalahala and his dedicated volunteers for educating the island's youth.