I remember the first time I saw pig damage in the forest. It was the early 1990s, and I was doing fieldwork for The Nature Conservancy, my first real job after college. I was helping with installing a fence high in the Maui watershed, and the area where we were working had been devastated by pigs. It was just bare dirt, an open wound. It was hard to imagine the native forest ever coming back.
But when I saw the area again just five years later, it was recovering. The barren clearings we had fenced were now chest high with native ferns capturing mist and dripping water into the spongy ground, making its way to our aquifer. Over the years I’ve returned again and again, each time seeing the native forest reclaim more of the land that was once its own.
This year, on Earth Day, it’s more important than ever that we hold on to that message of hope. During a time when it feels like the problems facing our islands are bigger than ever and that the forces threatening our planet are beyond our control, we need to remember that each one of us has the power to do something about it.
And there are so many opportunities to take action.
I continue to be inspired by community groups such as Kīpuka Olowalu, which is working to mālama the ‘āina and perpetuate Hawaiian practices. Communities across Hawai’i are stewarding the ‘āina with traditional land management methods and are making a real difference in reducing runoff and protecting our reefs through stream and wetland restoration projects, lo‘i kalo restoration and rehabilitating ancient fishponds. These mauka-to-makai projects are exciting and powerful, and I’m proud that The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with them.
As a longtime lover of Hawai‘i’s forest birds, I am also excited about the effort to protect endangered populations from avian malaria by suppressing invasive mosquitoes. As temperatures are warming, disease-carrying mosquitoes are moving higher and higher in elevation into native birds’ remaining habitat. Reducing the overall mosquito population gives the birds a chance to survive. If we do nothing, these birds will go extinct. We have to act now.
Finally, I’m also encouraged to see the progress being made on SB 304, a bill that would establish a Visitor Impact Fee, also called a green fee, to ensure tourists do their part to help mālama Hawai‘i by generating revenue to protect our natural resources for years to come.
As our lawmakers finalize this bill, we ask that they ensure that these funds be used to protect the many natural resources and communities that are both impacted by and benefit from tourists. This is a real opportunity to implement a program that has already shown it can work in other locations around the world.
If, like me, you’re passionate about Hawai‘i’s natural environment and inspired by the people who are working to protect it: get involved. You can make a difference by volunteering and giving back. Is there an organization that you see doing good work? Is there a cause that speaks to your heart, whether it’s native birds, coastal wetlands, watersheds, or the open space in your neighborhood? Every project matters and every action you take can make a difference.
So this Earth Day, join me, The Nature Conservancy, and everyone in our community who is working to protect our environment, and find a way to do your part. Your future self will thank you.