Restoration Ecology in Hawaii

Next stop: Kauai
by -- March 7th, 2013

Environmental management can be depressing. From the uncertainties of climate change to the disastrous effects of invasive species, it’s easy to wonder if it’s possible to make a difference at all. Enter ecological restoration, which offers the tantalizing possibility of improving our environment in a very tangible way.

What’s more, projects to restore degraded spaces often sound tidy and neat:  remove invasives, plant natives. Release captive bred creatures to their natural habitat. I am sometimes reminded of 1940s propaganda posters when I look at restoration plans or proposals:  “Plant a tree! Save the reef! Rescue wild orphans!”

Unfortunately, none of this is as easy as it sounds. ENV 976 gives a great intro to the principles of restoration, followed by a week of field work in Kauai to demonstrate what those catchy phrases mean in real life. Our class will be headed to a spectacular tropical garden with a 20-year-old forest restoration project, a National Marine Sanctuary, community watershed projects, and other great sites around the Garden Island. We’ll definitely be weeding, and planting, and looking for rare plants and animals. Mostly, we’ll be learning from the people of Kauai about what they are doing for their island home.

I’m really excited about this trip, but not for the reasons you might expect. I won’t be escaping any snowstorms or frigid temperatures. Kauai is actually probably a bit cooler than home, for me, and my husband is convinced I won’t last in the “cold” Kauai water for more than a few minutes. As much as I like Hawaii, a trip to paradise is not such a big deal when you live on another Pacific island.

What I am most anticipating is the community component. Scientists, government types, and political leaders can argue endlessly about what sites to restore to what time period and why, but all environmental projects are really about people. Kauai will be a great reminder that our actions can be positive as well as negative, and that a committed, involved group of people can make magic.





  1. Louise Barnfield
    Mar 15, 2013

    Aloha Adrienne,

    I was inspired by the enthusiasm and commitment in your post. I hope your visit to Kaua’i was everything you could have wished for, and that it has enthused you even more!

    I’m a volunteer at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and I was at the Point when your group visited on Thursday morning. I chatted with Carolyn and heard a little about your trip, and her future aspirations.

    It was a good day for whale watching, but most of the activity took place just after Carolyn and I parted company. Hardly a minute or two after she left, we spotted a mother, calf, and escort, who approached very close to the beach, to the west of the point, and hung out in that bay for over an hour. I looked for Carolyn but couldn’t find her. I’m hoping she saw them on her way back down along the path. 🙂

    I told her I was keen to check out your group blog, but I can see you’ve probably all been a bit too busy to add many posts so far.

    Do encourage your classmates to post to this blog once you are all back on dry land…I’m looking forward to reading more about the class trip and individual experiences.

    Tell Carolyn from me that I’m looking forward to watching her, and all of you, change the world for the better! 🙂


    • Carolyn LaBarbiera
      Mar 21, 2013

      Hi Louise,

      What a nice surprise to see that you found our blog and are reading a bit more about our trip! We have definitely updated our blog since this first post, so you will be able to learn about our trips to Limahuli Gardens, the Waipa Foundation and Koke’e State Park (plus a bit more about the lessons we learned!). We all had an amazing time on the island and were definitely sad to leave.

      Thank you for your kind words and I hope that we at least made a small difference while we were on the island. I am graduating in May, so we will see where I go from there! By the way, we took a whale watching trip later that afternoon, and we definitely saw a lot of action! 🙂

    • Adrienne
      Mar 21, 2013

      Hafa adai Louise,
      Thanks for the comment and kind words – Kauai was spectacular and we met many inspiring people during the trip. I was pleasantly surprised to find some clear and immediate links between projects on Kauai and Guam, so the trip was especially useful for me.

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