Emphasis was on keiki activities at booths and tables where young ones could learn about sanitation practices to protect against the spread of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death fungal disease.
The 3rd Annual ‘Ōhi‘a Love Fest was held at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, on Sunday. The free festival, open to the public, was a celebration of ‘ohi’a trees. Activities included Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death information, live music, entertainment, talks, games, prizes, face painting, a photo booth, educational booths and displays, crafts, demonstrations on how to reduce the spread of the fungal disease decimating native forests, free admission into ‘Imiloa’s planetarium, food, and more.
Since last year’s ‘Ōhi‘a Love Fest at ‘Imiloa, the less virulent of two strains of the fungal disease known as Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death was detected in single trees on O‘ahu and Maui. The disease has now been detected on Kaua‘i, Maui, O‘ahu and on Hawai‘i Island. Ground zero continues to be Hawai‘i Island, where both strains of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death have killed hundreds of thousands of trees. This is the reason the ‘Ōhi‘a Love Fest was conceived three years ago.
UH Extension Forester JB Friday is one of the key players in the multi-agency collaboration to try and determine the cause of the fungus, how it spreads, possible treatment and support intensive education and outreach efforts underway.
The love fest, Friday explains, “is the single largest public event we stage to really inform people of all ages what they can do to help stem the spread of the fungus.” Last year it’s estimated 2800-3000 people attended some portion of the seven-hour-long festival.
Emphasis at the event was on keiki activities with booths and tables where young ones could create ‘ōhi‘a tutu’s or push toy trucks through a muddy tray, followed by a demo of the sanitation practices experts ask adult drivers to employ on their vehicles when exiting any forest area, anywhere in the state.
“Decontamination procedures for footwear and vehicles are an important component of what we ask all visitors to our forests to practice,” says Friday. “Hunters, hikers, bird-watchers, backpackers, naturalists, cultural practitioners… anyone who enjoys Hawaiian forests, where ‘ōhi‘a is the keystone tree species, can really help in the effort to stop Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death in its tracks.” By completing a survey at the festival, people were given free decontamination kits.
Friday’s encouragement was echoed during the Festival Opening Kīpaepae (traditional ceremony). During the protocol, No’el Tagab-Cruz, of Hawai‘i Community College, asked audience members to become citizen scientists and to take actions in their personal lives to stop the spread of this fungal disease.
“Look into the inquisitive part of you because you may be the person that stops the fungus from spreading,” says Tagab-Cruz. “You might be the answer…you may be the answer to all of the questions we have.”
While intensive research on Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death continues, since it was first identified five years ago, Friday believes additional and consistent funding needs to be dedicated to the fight. He says this will be a long fight, one that will probably never be fully won, but people armed with information and education can take actions to help reduce transmission.
Outreach efforts, like Sunday’s ‘Ōhi‘a Love Fest, continue to be invaluable in raising awareness. A survey conducted two years ago, showed 90 percent of Hawai‘i Island residents are aware of the disease while statewide it was 50 percent. Both of those percentages have likely risen with subsequent Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death detections.
The ‘Ōhi‘a Love Fest was sponsored and organized by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife at the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, and UH, with support and participation from numerous other government institutions and non-profit organizations.