Students learn language of eco-restoration

‘ILIAHI — Last week 300 students from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School participated in a joint eco-restoration project sponsored by the National Tropical Botanical Garden and Grove Farm Land and Development Co.

On Tuesday and Thursday, students spent hours weeding, planting and learning about rare and native Kaua‘i plants with the professional guidance of staff members from the Conservation and Horticulture Center in Lawa‘i Valley at the NTBG.

Grove Farm’s Ecological Restoration project began in 2006 utilizing other young people “with the majority of Kaua‘i’s Boy and Girl Scouts on hand to plant nearly 1,000 local trees, plants and shrubs,” said Marissa Sandblom, project coordinator for Grove Farm.

This week’s event has taken a year in planning “with numerous experts to help us define and plan the restoration project,” she said.

Some 30 acres near Kilohana Crater have been marked for this project, yet the students on Thursday spread over the first two acres working with teachers, parents and NTBG staff to plant such rare species as Loulu Palm, Pritchardia viscose; a palm that is nearly extinct on the island — “Staff members from NTBG have determined that only four wild individuals of this species survive today,” wrote Sandblom.

Through the NTBG’s advanced and conscious horticulture restoration programs, this palm will have a chance of survival.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. I learned so much and it is much more fun to be outside instead of in the classroom,” said seventh-grader Shineth Rivera, holding her notebook and taking down names and details that will be used for writing a “reflection paper” for English, answer questions for a Science class hand-out, and remember specifics for Math discussions. “The students are applying a variety of skills related to geologic history, irrigation techniques, measuring and proportions for planting and plant identification,” said Sandblom.

The activity-filled mornings included a rotation of three stations: weeding and preparing the land for planting; measuring and planting new trees and shrubs; and hiking up to the rim of the Kilohana Crater where the students received natural history information “regarding the geological setting and identified native and invasive plants,” Sandblom said. Dr.David Burney, director of Conservation at the NTBG headquarters marked the trail with specific stopping points to discuss the plants. “The NTBG wants to spread the conservation message — there is no better way to do that then with the young people of our island,” he said.

Five team captains led the students through the various “stations” teaching them through hands-on demonstration and small talks. Bob Nishek, Mike DeMotta, Chris Sanford, Brianna Wilkerson, Emory Griffin-Noyes, Dr. Lida Pigott-Burney and Dr. Lee Niedengarde helped introduce students to the geological history and horticulture, along with Dr. David Burney. “We all have two built-in tools,” shouted Lida Burney holding up her hands to a group of attentive students, “if the other tools are being used, your hands work just fine.”

Grove Farm and NTBG sponsored the transportation costs for the field trip and each student received a specially designed T-shirt by local artist Jackie Kanna, with the name of the school and drawings of some of the native plants they learned about on their day trip. “This way they can remember and as they go around the island, they’ll see the plants and be able to identify them as native or non-native, Polynesian-brought or invasive — and teach their friends and parents too,” Sandblom said, holding the limited edition commemorative T-shirt in the wind.

Students gathered around a small kou cordia subcordata and packed soil around the thin trunk. When asked if they hope to come back and help with the eco-restoration they all answered with a resounding “Yes.”

Seventh-grader Rivera added, “I like it because we learned the scientific names for the plants … that means I can go anywhere in the world and someone who speaks a different language will still know what I mean.”

For more information on the Grove Farm restoration project, visit www.grovefarm.com or contact Marissa Sandblom at 632-2526. For information on the NTBG visit www.ntbg.org.

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