We are preparing students for careers in conservation, a new growth sector in Hawai‘i’s economy.
By Don Straney.
One of the top responsibilities of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is to provide stewardship for the natural and cultural environment. Our campus emphasizes respect for the ‘āina, or land, and we work in partnership with the local community and government agencies to study, protect, preserve and sustain the unique natural and cultural environment of Hawai‘i Island.
We approach this work on many fronts. We provide our students myriad opportunities to create careers in conservation. Our researchers are studying the island’s flora and fauna resulting in groundbreaking findings with potential to save vulnerable species from extinction.
Hawai‘i and the Pacific islands are at the leading edge of conservation challenges because of the highly unique endemic species, with the many threats to the species and environments from invasive species, diseases and habitat change, and now with the increasing climate changes.
Let me share with you some of the things we’ve done recently to meet these challenges.
The Pacific Internship Program for Exploring Science immerses students in applied learning internships for 10 weeks each summer, where the students’ work can immediately impact and help solve emerging problems. The program’s 24th annual Student Symposium was held in August, where 42 students presented their projects ranging from monitoring erosion on Maunakea to engaging the community in little fire ant control.
Pacific Climate Boot Camp
UH Hilo hosted the first Climate Change Boot Camp in August. The event showcased recent collaborative research efforts driven by local natural resource managers across Hawaiʻi Island in a new program entitled the UH Hilo Manager Climate Corps. Local managers have teamed up with UH Hilo faculty across a diversity of disciplines to address complex needs resulting from climate change and other natural resource challenges. The goal is to support communities as they tackle climate change, invasive species, land-use, and culture.
World Conservation Congress
UH Hilo participated in the 2016 International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress held last month in Honolulu. Held every four years, this conference brings together scientists and experts, policy makers, educators, politicians, non-governmental organizations, business interests, and community organizations from around the world to discuss conservation issues.
This was the first time this prestigious congress was held in the U.S., and UH Hilo played an important role highlighting our island as a model in environmental and cultural conservation. In addition to UH Hilo being a member of the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance—a group that was a driving force behind getting the IUCN to the U.S. and Hawai‘i and was involved with planning the event—UH Hilo researchers and students were engaged in many different activities across the diverse event.
Researchers from the UH Hilo Hawai‘i Cooperative Studies Unit presented studies on the impacts of climate change in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, waterbird studies, and digital storymap techniques. Much of this work was done collaboratively with the USGS Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center, located at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and the USGS Pacific Islands Climate Science Center, located at UH Hilo.
Partnerships such as these can be fast, responsive and have become a well-respected and trusted source of information by conservation managers. Findings from one collaborative study resulted in a resolution at the IUCN calling for the conservation of one of Hawai‘i’s highly endangered birds, the ‘i‘iwi.
Many of our faculty and students also attended the World Conservation Congress.
A biology professor and researcher presented a talk on a computer program developed in collaboration with UH Hilo computer science students. The project is entitled Restoring Ecosystems Services Tool (REST) and uses principal component analysis graphs to identify plants that are functionally similar to one another for the purposes of ecosystem restoration. (The students presented their project last year at the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition in California.)
And students and faculty from our Kūʻula Integrated Science Program performed at the IUCN Marine World Heritage Reception. The Kūʻula students presented two chants and hula describing human relationships with the ocean and coral reefs.
A core program in our efforts to meet the conservation challenges of our island is our Tropical Conservation Biology and Environment Science graduate program, now in its 12th year with 143 graduates to date. We are proud of our graduates, entering doctoral programs or going straight to work on local wildlife management, watershed projects, fisheries, integrated pest management and more, contributing greatly to conservation measures throughout our island and state.
We are preparing students for careers in conservation, a new growth sector in Hawai‘i’s economy. Having local people engaged in solving the problems of our precious local environment is vital to success.