“In my 30 years, I’ve never grown so much—and that includes my four years in college.”
Marion Ano, Inaugural Marine Fellow
Marine Fellows Marion Ano and Russell Amimoto have spent their last two years immersed in marine conservation. Their journey was “transformational” according to the fellows, who recently graduated and are now ready to take on some of the island’s toughest conservation challenges.
“The Marine Fellowship Program was both a professional and personal journey for me,” says Ano, one of the two inaugural graduates. “In my 30 years, I’ve never grown so much—and that includes my four years in college.”
“The Conservancy launched the program to build a new generation of highly skilled marine stewards,” says Manuel Mejia, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i project manager. “Protecting vast ocean areas with intense needs has been a critical problem, but now we can count on two fully equipped professionals who are also amazing individuals.”
Ano and Amimoto spent their first year learning a core set of technical skills, including GIS, hydrology, fish taxonomy and invasive species control. Both also received their scientific diver certification. Traditional practices such as pono (responsible) fishing methods and the ahupua‘a system of resource management were also part of their well-rounded curriculum.
In their second year they applied their knowledge to real-life, community-based conservation projects. Ano participated in restoration work at He‘eia ‘ahupua‘a, while Amimoto conducted fish surveys on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island. Both were also instrumental in scaling up invasive algae removal efforts in Maunalua Bay, and in creating a plan for protecting a Natural Area Reserve on Maui.
“I learned that you need to know much more than biology to be an effective conservation professional,” Ano says. “Within a community you also need to listen and be sensitive to political and socio-economic issues. I discovered that connecting with people and maintaining those relationships is key to doing things the right way.”
According to Mejia, the fellowship program was in its infancy so everything about it was new and uncharted. “Russell and Marion learned a lot and grew a lot,” he says. “But we also learned from them.”
Amimoto, a canoe builder and captain on the Polynesian voyaging vessel Hōkule‘a, brought years of traditional voyaging skills and a deep commitment to protecting the ocean. Ano, an educator who has helped restore fishponds on O‘ahu and Moloka‘i, brought her passion for educating youth about science and traditional approaches to ocean stewardship.
There will be little rest for the graduates. Ano recently accepted a position as a GIS climate change intern with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition, she will participate in an upcoming 10-day NOAA leadership program in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and represent Hawai‘i and the United States in an indigenous leadership program called Americans for Indian Opportunity.
Amimoto is already transitioning to the Conservancy’s scientific dive team, where he has become a valuable addition surveying reefs across the state. He is also training future crews for the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s worldwide voyage in 2012, and introducing young people to ocean activities that foster love and respect for our marine environment.
“By being exposed to the many different aspects of conservation, I’ve learned what I enjoy doing and where I can make the biggest difference,” he says.
Adds Ano, “I got so much out of the Fellowship, but the one thing this program made crystal clear for me is that I can align my professional career with what I value personally. Whatever the future holds, I hope to always make sure those two things are in alignment.”
The Conservancy would like to thank the Atherton Family Foundation, Mr. James K. Campbell of The Pohaku Fund through the Tides Foundation, The Strong Foundation and NOAA’s CORAL Program (through the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation) and the Pacific Services Center for making this program possible.