David Okita Receives The Nature Conservancy’s Kāko‘o ‘Āina Award

David Okita and several TNC staff stand together at the presentation of the Kāko‘o ‘Āina Award.
Kāko‘o ‘Āina Awardee David Okita holds the koʻokoʻo, or staff, that he received at the presentation of the Kāko‘o ‘Āina Award. © Toni Parras/TNC

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The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i and Palmyra (TNC) announces the presentation of the Kāko‘o ‘Āina Award to David Okita, a pilot who has been working with TNC to support conservation of Hawai‘i Island’s watersheds for four decades.   

“It is our sincere honor to recognize and celebrate Dave, who has been a trusted and dedicated partner to many who mālama ‘āina,” said Ulalia Woodside Lee, the executive director of TNC’s Hawai‘i and Palmyra Program. “Dave’s deep knowledge of landscapes and ecosystems coupled with his dedication to Hawai‘i have made an immeasurable contribution to conservation.” 

Having been involved in nearly every conservation project on the island of Hawai‘i during his career, Okita has flown researchers and land managers in and out of remote valleys and rainforests; piloted surveys of ungulates and spotted invasive plants and animals in places they did not belong; delivered materials to build hundreds of miles of fences, protecting endangered plants and forested watersheds; and rescued lost hikers from these isolated places. In addition, land managers have relied heavily on Okita for fighting wildfires.  

Due to the nature of his job as a helicopter pilot, Okita has been able to detect patterns across the landscape such as decline in native canopy cover and increase in problematic weed infestations. After axis deer were illegally introduced to Hawaiʻi Island in 2009, he piloted the response team into position to detect and remove them in the early 2010s.   

Established in 2006, TNC’s Kākoʻo ʻĀina Award honors groups and individuals who have provided significant and long-standing support for conservation in Hawai‘i. “Kāko‘o ‘Āina” translates to “one who supports the land.” Previous Kāko‘o ‘Āina Awards have been presented on Hawaiʻi Island in 2006 to Jack Jeffrey, in 2012 to Bill Gilmartin, and in 2015 to Kuʻulei Keakealani, Leinaʻala Keakealani Lightner and Hannah Springer. 

The Kākoʻo ʻĀina Award presentation included a koʻokoʻo, or staff, hand-carved by master Hawaiian woodworker Kunāne Wooton, and an oli, or chant, composed by TNC staff. 

Images available here (captions and credits embedded within file names)




The Nature Conservancy is a global non-profit organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Informed by science and guided by traditional values and practices, we apply innovative, nature-based solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive. TNC has forged partnerships to manage 14 preserves and other sites in Hawai‘i and Palmyra Atoll, working with government, private parties and communities to protect Hawai‘i’s and Palmyra’s forests and coral reefs for their ecological value and for the many benefits they provide to people. Visit

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.