LIHUE — The air smelled different and the ground was squishy when the Wilcox Elementary fourth grade joined Carl Berg at the Pu‘ali Stream Wetlands.
In fact, there still might be a shoe or two sandwiched in the swamp from the recent field trip, where the kids weeded and cleaned up debris as a community service project, and a lesson in ecology.
“I sunk in up to my knee,” said Rees Jenkins.
The kids sunk a few other things into the ground that afternoon, though, including some plants they’d been keeping alive in their classrooms for three months.
“We planted some native plants,” said Rylee Fabiana.
Those native plants were ‘ahu’awa, and they’re being introduced into the area as part of the wetland restoration project through Malama Hule’ia, an organization aimed at improving the Nawiliwili Bay Watershed.
The goal of the Pu‘ali Stream Wetlands project, which began last year, has been to remove the red mangrove and other invasive species from the area and replace them with native species.
The project is in its second year, and Berg said thousands of hours have been put in removing mangrove, with “unbelievable” results.
“(It’s) a real community effort to build a native Hawaiian wetland ecosystem for all to enjoy,” said Berg, who has been bringing the island’s kids on board with the project.
Berg also dropped by the Wilcox Elementary fourth grades to do a career day experiment prior to the planting, where he showed the class how to test the quality of water.
“We learned how to measure dirty water,” Rees said.
Others from the class said it was important because they wanted to know if the water is clean or dirty when they jump in for a swim.
Water quality is also important for the plants and animals living in the area, the kids said.
It took more than one session to plant the more than 150 seedlings at the Pu‘ali Stream Wetlands and to help complete the project. Nineteen freshmen from Kapaa High School lent a few hands on Nov. 17.
“They cleared out a huge area and planted a bunch of plants,” said Nicole McKamey, teacher at Kapaa High who supervised the field trip. “Learning is different outside the classroom, you’re able to be hands on.”
Volunteers that have spent time at Pu‘ali Stream Wetlands have ranged from pre-school aged kids all the way to college students and beyond, Berg said.
The project’s overall goal is to upgrade the area, which is a county park, and not to close it off for a wildlife reserve, Berg said. It’s a project to rehabilitate the area for recreation and fishing.
“It’s been a great team effort on this project,” Berg said.