Conservation a subject that brings people together

WAILUA — The Kaua‘i Conservation Conference quickly became a standing-room only event when over 200 people converged at the Aloha Beach Resort to discuss local conservation efforts and concerns Friday.

The overflow crowds in the Ali‘i Room consisted mostly of Kaua‘i residents involved in governmental and agency work focused on conservation efforts.

The name of the conference, “Mai uka a kai: Malama Kaua‘i,” translates to “From mountaintop to sea: Take care of Kaua‘i.”

“This may be one of the first conferences of its kind specifically dedicated to local conservation efforts and concerns,” said Jackie Kozak of the Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee, one of the organizers.

The idea behind the conference was to strengthen the conservation network on Kaua‘i. It was planned to offer a venue to facilitate cooperative projects and partnerships, exchange helpful information and ideas to enhance the effectiveness of conservation work, while raising awareness in the community about the importance of conservation.

People came from all parts of the island, some from the neighbor islands, to learn more about other conservation projects and potential partners in the field, Kozak said, according to a press release.

“The conference was created with the intention to bring people together who share a common mission to preserve the natural and cultural resources of our island,” Kozak said.

The conference began with a message about the importance of conservation presented by Chipper Wichman, director of the NTBG.

Wichman was followed by Dr. Carlos Andrade, a Kaua‘i native and professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i in Manoa who talked about the interdependence of the ahupua‘a (Hawaiian word for land designation extending from the uplands to the sea) , fueling the conference with a cultural perspective for conservation work on Kaua‘i.

Endangered forest birds, humpback whales, invasive species, aina-based education programs, heiau restoration, and native plant propagation were just some of the areas visited during the three dozen presentations devoted to the conservation theme.

“I hope all of you are leaving here feeling as inspired and enriched as I am,” said Dr. Mimi Olry, monk seal sighting and action coordinator for Kaua‘i. “As we see ever-increasing threats to our natural resources, it is vital that we not only work together, but reach out to our communities.”

A benchmark of the conference’s success is that the Aloha Beach Resort, which contributed the cost of the Ali‘i Room as well as other materials and services, is hoping to cultivate a partnership with some of the many groups and individuals associated with the conference.

Akana, a pioneer of the resort’s Lono Garden of native and medicinal plants, said, “We are now, all a part of Kaua‘i.”

Following the day of presentations, conference attendees worked to plant native plants contributed by the Kaua‘i Native Plant Society, the Kaua‘i Community College, and NTBG.

Lono’s Garden overlooks Hikinaakala heiau and the Wailua River mouth. The garden is a free and open educational site geared towards school children.

The volunteer planning committee established the Kaua‘i Conservation Conference Planning Fund as a project of the Garden Island and Resource Conservation and Development, Inc., with a vision for the continuation and expansion of annual conferences.

In the future, plans are to make the conference a multi-day event with workshops, public outreach events hosting information on conservation issues and current projects, Kozak said. It will offer volunteer opportunities and more ways people can get involved in conservation.

“From the beginning, there was such a remarkable response and interest indicating a great need and desire for such an event on Kaua‘i,” she said. “This first Kaua‘i Conservation Conference is just the beginning.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) and dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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