Story by Kyle Ellison | Photography by Mike Neubauer (Friends of Haleakala National Park), Cesere Brothers (Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Reef Fish Identification Program), Jim Valentine (Kipahulu ‘Ohana), Forest & Kim Starr
The Hawaiian word kuleana translates as both “ownership” and “responsibility” — if you care about something, you take care of it. Maui offers many ways to gain that sense of belonging, as these volunteers can attest. No capes, tights or superpowers required.
Friends of Haleakala National Park
For Matt Wordeman, there is far more to Haleakala Crater than colorful sunrises and hiking trails. Inside the caldera of this dormant volcano, a native ecosystem is fighting to survive the threat of outside intruders.
“Haleakala,” says Matt, “is not only a unique place on Maui, but a unique place in the world.” Indeed, of the 850 plant species within the national park, 300 are endemic to Hawai‘i — found only in the Islands. Matt cautions that if left unchecked, “invasive plants will dominate the landscape and force out native plants, insects, and animals.”
Twelve years ago, when Matt first volunteered with the Friends of Haleakala National Park, corners of the crater were covered with telegraph weed (Heterotheca grandiflora). Today, thanks in large part to volunteers who have worked to remove the plant, it’s a challenge to find a single telegraph weed in the section that was once overgrown.
Matt was so impressed by the effectiveness of that volunteer effort that he now serves as the organization’s president and helps lead monthly service trips into the park. During these trips, volunteers hike between eight and eighteen miles and scour the crater to remove invasive plants. Participants sleep in backcountry cabins, and also help with basic maintenance of the rustic, subalpine shelters.
During the day, volunteers often work in remote corners of the park that are normally off-limits to visitors. On service/learning trips to Paliku Cabin, rangers share their knowledge of astronomy and Hawaiian legend, and discuss the mountain’s ecology. The organization provides rain gear and hiking poles; volunteers must bring — and carry — their own sleeping bags, packs, and snacks for the trail, as well as warm clothing for the brisk mountain nights.
“I like taking volunteers up there who are seeing the mountain for the first or second time,” says Matt. “It never gets old, and seeing the wonder in their eyes helps to renew my wonder as well.”
WHEN: Trips run Saturday through Monday, once a month.
WHERE: Groups carpool to the summit from Pukalani Terrace Center.
WEBSITE: Visit fhnp.org for fees, information and sign-up.
Sometimes to give back to the land, you need to get it under your toenails. Such is the case at Kapahu Farm, a working taro farm in East Maui run by the Kipahulu ‘Ohana (family). Volunteers at this rural farm have the chance to work in lo‘i kalo (taro paddies), and the thick, black, nutrient-rich mud feels gooey as it sucks around your feet.
For Leimamo Lind-Strauss, getting dirty is all a part of the experience and makes for much of the fun. “People don’t have the chance to get muddy that often . . . it’s all in or it’s all out.”
More than just working with roots in the mud, farming taro is a way to connect with the roots of Hawaiian culture. Legend says the taro plant is Haloa, mankind’s older brother; each takes care of the other. This staple food is a living reminder of the relationship between human and land, and as volunteer Scott Crawford states, “There is nothing that helps us understand the ahupua‘a [traditional land-division] system and the Hawaiian way of seeing the world, more than working shoulder to shoulder in the mud of the lo‘i with the elder brother, Haloa.”
When: Third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Where: Kapahu Farm, Kipahulu. Directions provided at 248-8558.
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
Water. For over two thousand miles in every direction, Maui is surrounded by water. It’s the playground on our island’s doorstep, and the azure home of our native marine species.
At the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary — a congressionally created entity with a leviathan-sized name and an equally enormous mission — one of the numerous volunteer opportunities available is to help monitor the cleanliness of our water. From Haycraft Beach Park in Ma‘alaea to ‘Ahihi Kinau in Makena, volunteers wade knee-deep to collect water samples. Back at the Sanctuary office in north Kihei, these samples are assessed by volunteers for pH, salinity, and turbidity — data the organization makes available to researchers in assessing the health of our shorelines.
Volunteer, and you’ll learn how to use a light refractometer, and perhaps learn how to test for bacteria using incubators and UV light. How cool is that?
Robyn Walters says that acquiring this knowledge is one of the perks of being a volunteer water-quality analyst. “You learn things that other people don’t necessarily know.” There is also the camaraderie that has developed among the Sanctuary’s volunteers. For example, every Friday night the group holds a barbeque at Kamaole III Beach Park in Kihei.
“In all my life,” Walters adds, “I’ve never had so many friends as I’ve had as a Sanctuary volunteer.”
When: Schedule varies by position.
Where: Meet at 726 S. Kihei Road, Kihei
If Kihei’s beaches had a distress call, it would be a guttural moan. That’s the sound made by ‘ua‘u kani— wedge-tailed shearwaters — which nest in South Maui’s coastal sand dunes.
Foot traffic and development have gradually increased dune erosion, and the shearwaters have lost places to burrow.
For the volunteer crew of Hoaloha ‘Aina (“Friends of the Land”), restoring the health of the dunes is vital to protecting not only the birds, but also the beach around them. Volunteers plant grasses like ‘aki ‘aki and shrubs like naupaka, which can withstand proximity to saltwater. These native species create ground cover that traps windblown sand and helps to restore the dunes. The dunes provide cover for the shearwaters, and help heal the beach when large surf washes sand away.
Volunteers also help reduce foot traffic on the dunes by constructing walkovers, fences, and signs.
For Cindi Wadlow, a regular volunteer, there’s more to working with Hoaloha ‘Aina than simply “getting outside, being active, and losing weight.”
“I have learned that I’m not done learning what it takes to make our beaches healthy . . . it’s more than just picking up trash or pulling weeds, and what we do now affects what will happen down the road.”
When: Mondays, 7:30-9:30 a.m.
Where: Varying locations between Kihei Boat Ramp and Charley Young Beach in Kihei
Reef Fish Identification Program
If you love the ocean, and you love to snorkel, helping the island’s marine life is as easy as counting fish. Literally.
Through the REEF Fish Identification Program, snorkelers tally the fish they encounter while exploring the island’s reefs. Nearly 25 percent of Hawai‘i’s fish species are endemic, and keeping tabs on their distribution — and thereby the health of the reef — requires many eyes.
According to Liz Foote of the Coral Reef Alliance, “Volunteers contribute to the knowledge of the diversity of Maui’s snorkeling sites. Different species play different roles in ensuring a functioning reef system. Scientists use this data to establish baselines, monitor trends, and identify if something is amiss.”
For $20 you can order a survey starter kit from reef.org, and the next time you encounter a blue-striped butterflyfish you can mark it on your underwater slate. Back on land, upload your findings into the reef.org database and contribute to the ongoing tally.
Volunteer Flo Bahr has contributed 272 times, collecting data on her own, or joining in group fish counts, which are organized once a month. Locations vary, and you must bring your own gear, but Flo says she enjoys the social component of snorkeling with like-minded volunteers. “Sometimes we are so excited about seeing a rare fish,” she says. “After each survey we enjoy sharing what we saw.”
When: On your own, or at monthly Fish Identification Network gatherings
Website: Visit reef.org for survey starter kits, and check the Fish Identification Network’s Facebook page for scheduled meet-ups.