15 Feb IN THE FIELD | Kaho’olawe Service Trip


By Kupu Conservation Leader Zachary Jones 

During my two years as a Kupu Conservation Leader I’ve worked with Wai‘anae Mountains Watershed Partnership where my main assignment has been to construct a fence along the Mikilua ridge line in Lualualei to prevent ungulates (hoofed mammals) from entering areas occupied by native and endangered species like kahuli tree snails. When I’m not working in the clouds, I help to manage our native dry land forest sites and vegetative fire breaks throughout the Wai‘anae mountains. Every site I get to work at is beautiful and unique and each one is special to me, but no place has had as much of an impact on me as Kaho‘olawe.  

I started working in conservation because I’ve always wanted to save the world like my favorite superheroes and this is what our planet needs.

Kaho‘olawe is a living example of Hawai‘i’s capacity for destruction and new life. After enduring such an extreme and unnecessary deal of damage caused by years of military weapons testing and ungulates roaming, Kanaloa still remains with enough nourishment to provide us with some shade during lunch.

Before I saw it for myself, I thought the island was a dead and hot wasteland. Although it was very hot, in the four times I’ve been allowed on island I’ve witnessed a spectacular whale show, multiple friendly monk seals, owls, and vigorous activity in the reefs fighting continuous erosion. Kiawe trees are the dominant vegetation but I’ve seen enough ‘ilima, naio, a‘ali‘i, wiliwili, and pili grass to ensure a strong native plant presence for generations to come. There is a collection of archaeological sites and artifacts found and yet to be that will take you back in time. The total lack of modernization preserves the island’s essence and makes being there feel so pure.

The Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) has served as Kanaloa’s champion for 40 years. They have been educating people of all ages and ancestry about the importance of cultural and environmental conservation by showing people Kaho‘olawe from the ‘Ohana’s perspective. Every trip with PKO has given me a deeper appreciation for the island and understanding of the work being done there because seeing how much love each of the kua (“backbone” or those willing to bend their backs in hard work) have for the effort is humbling and inspiring.  

In the four times that I’ve been able to visit this past year, I was able to work on the Ala Loa Trail project for PKO’s annual Makahiki ceremony. My first and last visits were part of Kupu service trips where we were able to accomplish so much with so many great people and righteous minds.  

Building the Ala Loa Trail with Kupu was one the most fulfilling tasks I’ve had because besides all of the blood, sweat, and tears of joy put into it, everyone was working with intentions for something greater than themselves. It was like a workout for the body and soul seeing everyone, including myself, so physically drained and sleep-deprived but still keeping a smile on their faces made it easy to give so much. 

Everyone in the group connected so easily because we all had a common goal, to make the world a better place. I never felt so at home with so many strangers but something about doing good deeds together always forms lasting relationships. After a tiring day, having dinner at camp and hearing the kua tell stories about the land and everyone’s experiences there only motivated the group to wake up early for another day of satisfying work.  

The kua said that your time on the island will reflect your mindset and intention for going there and my experience was as incredible as I was excited to be on island. My most poignant moments are during the return to Maui. Being on the last boat back gave me plenty of time to reflect on the fun times with new friends, why I practice aloha ‘āina, and why I love this place so much, while sitting on the beach during the majestic Haleakalā sunrise with nothing to hear but the sounds of Kanaloa.  

I remember comparing the countless kiawe splinters in my hands with my internship partner Makakoa, who always pushes a little harder. We talked about all of the cuts and bruises we had from working but it was always with a sense of gratitude and accomplishment. As we left shore, Makakoa and I looked back to see the Ala Loa Trail we had worked so hard for, pronounced along the island’s edge, and there were no words needed to communicate just how great we both felt, but then a whale that breached next to our small boat exclaimed our emotions just fine. PKO welcomed me to their home and I am forever grateful for the lasting lessons and memories made on Kaho‘olawe.

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