Kauai students ‘think globally to protect locally’

Sometimes you wonder if young people are paying attention to the challenges facing the environment today. Do they care? Do they understand what’s at stake? Do they want to anything about it?

The answer, to all, is yes.

And how do we know this?

Kauai High School students in marine science recently expressed a desire to take what they learned in the classroom this year and apply it in the community in an attempt to resolve local problems. The students were given freedom in choosing what issue they felt most compelled to address, ranging from overfishing to the effects of methane from cows or residue from sunscreen ingredients harming corals and water quality.

Here are excerpts from what some of them wrote:

On overfishing

“There are many different opinions on overfishing, but at the end of the day, the truth is that if we take too much from the ocean then we will eventually run out of resources … People need to realize that everyone plays an important role in saving what we have.”

“Over the past 55 years, as fisheries have decreased how much fish they’re raising to sell, humans have begun to understand that the oceans we’d assumed were unendingly vast and rich, are actually really vulnerable and sensitive. Add overfishing to pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, and acidification, and anyone can see why our oceans are in big trouble right now.”

“We learned how much fish people are allowed to catch, but they are catching more than the amount that is required. We want to know why people are not doing what they are supposed to do and we want to know why others are overfishing and why aren’t they being stopped.”

On sunscreen

“All the sunscreen that is being washed off of skin floats onto the reef, suffocating the corals to the point where they die. To be specific on what oxybenzone does is, it leaches the coral of its nutrients and bleaches it white. It will also, in the long run, disrupt the development of fish and other wildlife that depend on the coral reefs. Ways that this could be prevented, is to not use sunscreens that contain harmful ingredients. Use water resistant sunscreen that won’t seep off of your skin into the water and cause damage to the ocean’s ecosystem.”

“This has become a problem due to the fact that snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing are just a few major recreational activities we have. If the corals die off, we are left with little to no fish, no ‘pillow’ to minimize the effects hurricanes have on us, and lastly, no more tourism and hospitality industry.”

On cows

“Cows eat grass that has been fertilized. Once they eat the grass and it gets into their system, it becomes cow manure. Then it will soon rain and all the droppings will travel with the water to rivers into the ocean. Once it’s in the ocean, the chemical from the fertilizer will cause corals to die. Corals and reefs dying will affect our whole ecosystem.”

“How can we help? Farmers can also collect the cow dropping and maybe use it as fertilizer instead of just leaving it and it gets into our waters. In addition, farmers could have their cattle poop in one place so there’s not much hassle to collect the poop.”

Rising sea level

“Sea level rise is a big problem because here on Kauai beaches might be gone. What we mean by this is that sea level comes and takes sand from shores. Global warming kills the coral reefs and it also damaged houses near the beaches. The rate of sea level rise has gone faster since 1990 … I think that we as people who live on Kauai should do something to help our people and our islands.”:

On water runoff

“When a storm occurs, the river water flows to the ocean water and when they combine, it creates brown and dirty water. This happens usually after a storm. This does not only affect the locals, but the animals that use the rivers and river mouths for their native habitat.”

“Runoff … is a serious problem because there are a lot of pesticides, bad bacteria from things like pig feces and decaying animals, and invasive animals living in the fresh water that empties into our oceans during rainstorms. Since Hawaii is tropical, it rains a lot here and so this is a big problems for flooding bad things into our oceans that kill our corals and our reef systems.”

On trash

“We throw things away with no guilt, the same guilt that you feel when you see that innocent whale, dead on the sand because he/she thought your trash was food. I want to know if people would still make the same choices of disposing their trash the same way if they knew that their trash could have been the same trash found in whale and all the other 267-plus species worldwide, that includes the 867 percent of all sea turtles, the 44 percent of all seabird species and the 43 percent of all marine mammals species.”

Based on these answers, even though it’s just a small sampling, it’s clear these students do care and they are offering their ideas and possible solutions. The question now is, will we listen?


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