Story & photos: 1,500 island schoolchildren attend the 31st annual Earth Day Fair at UH Hilo

The students spoke with scientists, conservationists, and representatives from local environmental organizations at dozens of booths lining UH Hilo’s Campus Center Plaza and Library Lanai.

By Leah Sherwood. Photos by by Raiatea Arcuri.
Click photos to enlarge.

Boy generates electricity with hand crank. Event is on the open aired Campus Center Plaza. Lots of children in background.
Children learned about alternative energy and many other ways to care for the environment at the Earth Day Fair, April 26, 2019, UH Hilo.

The 31st annual Earth Day Fair, co-sponsored by University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College, was held Friday, April 26, on the UH Hilo campus.

The event was attended by more than 1,500 school children from all over the island of Hawai‘i. The students enjoyed educational videos, informational exhibits and science demonstrations, expert guest speakers, a food sustainability panel, environmental science skill-building workshops, dance troupes, hula, storytellers, face-painting, campus garden tours, an environmental career fair, and unmanned aerial vehicle flight simulators, as well as free plants, fruits, and other giveaways.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce UH Hilo to the next generation of students,” says Ryan Perroy, geography professor and co-chair of the fair’s organizing committee. “It’s really important for the university to engage with the community and this is one of the bigger events that we have.”

The students spoke with scientists, conservationists, and representatives from local environmental organizations at dozens of booths lining UH Hilo’s Campus Center Plaza and Library Lanai. Members from local chapters of national nonprofit organizations such as Surfrider and Sierra Club as well as local organizations such as Big Island Invasive Species Committee were on hand to talk with students and answer questions.

Beyond the tables at the library lanai and plaza, there were hands-on workshops and presentations scattered across campus. These were on topics such as Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death, Hawksbill turtle recovery programs, and ‘Imi Pono no ka ‘Āina. UH Hilo students in Michelle Shuey‘s environmental science class also developed and ran different environmental games for hundreds of keiki to run around and interact with different environmental issues like pollution.

“Our ‘aina loves us, and when something loves you, you love it back. Nourish your ‘aina, the ‘aina has never not loved us. We have to wake up.” — Manu Meyer

The event kicked off with a traditional kīpaepae opening ceremony. Keynote speaker Manulani Meyer then delighted the audience by whipping out her harmonica and playing a couple of minutes of bluesy licks before speaking. Meyer is the konohiki (facilitator) for Kūlana o Kapolei (A Hawaiian Place of Learning) at UH West O‘ahu.

Meyer urged the audience to hug each other (“like you mean it!”) before addressing the central theme of her talk, which was aloha ‘āina (“love of the land”). Speaking to the K-12 students lining the bleachers of the gym at UH HIlo, she urged them to care of the land. “Even small acts, such as picking up litter we may see on the street, are a gesture of love to Earth,” says Meyer. “Our ‘aina loves us, and when something loves you, you love it back. Nourish your ‘aina, the ‘aina has never not loved us. We have to wake up.”

Perroy feels that the Earth Day Fair’s message has never been more important. “The whole message of aloha ‘aina and ‘aina aloha resonates very strongly with both the campus community and the young students and teachers we bring,” says Perroy. “In general, we are doing a terrible job of taking care of our planet and the more we can have events like this, to not just to celebrate the Earth but to actually get people to do something differently than what they are currently doing, the better off we will all be.”

7th annual Conservation Career Day

This year’s Earth Day Fair was held in parallel with the 7th annual Conservation Career Day, an event that draws local scientists and agencies in the field of natural resource management who seek to inspire local students to become environmental stewards and to pursue careers in natural resource management. This career day event is designed to provide information to middle and high school students, with a specific focus on local employment opportunities.

Youngster interacting with adult at insect display. In background is a large banner: Earth Day is Every Day.
Children learned about the work of entomologists and botanists among many other professions at Conservation Career Day, April 26, 2019, UH Hilo.

“Sharing our Mana‘o” was the theme of the career panel discussion, which featured young professionals in environmental fields representing different organizations on the island of Hawai‘i. Two of the five panelists, David Benetiz, an ecologist at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, and Kamala Anthony, a conservationist who specializes in Hawaiian fishponds, were graduates of the tropical conservation biology and environmental science master’s program at UH Hilo.

Anthony spoke of how she and her friends established an organization known as Hui Hoʻoleimaluō, which focuses on the restoration and maintenance of the Honokea loko (fishpond) at Waiuli through education outreach, community advocacy, and place-based management. “We need to make sure we are caring for the resources we have in Hawai‘i, and putting in the attention to care for these things,” says Anthony. Referring to Hawai‘i’s unique ecosystems, Anthony says that better management protocols need to be implemented in order to mitigate problems such as Rapid ‘Ohi’a Death that threaten Hawai‘i’s natural resources.

Sponsors

The Earth Day Fair and Conservation Career Day were sponsored by Kamehameha Schools, the UH Hilo Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Sciences, and hundreds of volunteers, many of them students and faculty from UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College.

 

About the author of this story: Leah Sherwood is a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University. 

About the photographer: Raiatea Arcuri is a professional photographer majoring in business at UH Hilo.