MAALAEA, HI – As part of Pacific Whale Foundation’s Volunteering on Vacation program, a group of 124 Kamehameha School incoming freshmen participated in a volunteer service project at Haleakala National Park on Friday, July 24. They were guided by Pacific Whale Foundation staff Blake Moore (Eco-Adventures assistant Vessel Programs director) and Patrick Merrill (Eco-Adventures Vessel Programs director), along with Haleakala staff members.
The students and their faculty chaperones learned about the national park’s efforts to protect native flora and fauna and worked to remove invasive pine trees in the park. “We always emphasize that you don’t have to be on vacation to participate in this program,” said Jessica Niles, outreach coordinator at Pacific Whale Foundation. “In this case, the students are local residents, but are volunteering during their summer break.”
Volunteering on Vacation is a program offered by Pacific Whale Foundation, through an award from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Now in its third year, the program helps to match visitors or other interested persons with volunteer projects on Maui that benefit the outdoor environment.
“We had beautiful, warm conditions at Haleakala, and we worked together to pull Mexican Weeping Pines on both sides of the fence near the entrance to the park,” reported Patrick Merrill. “We were very impressed with the students… they started the project with a ‘protocol’ or introductory chant. Then Jeff Bagshaw, a ranger with the National Park Service gave an overview of the problem that invasive species pose to the native landscape in Hawaii.”
“The kids worked very well together and were able to pull hundreds of trees during their time at the park,” said Merrill. “It was a very successful event, and I look forward to participating again next year. It’s good to know that the future of our island is in the hands of such inspiring and motivated students.”
As part of Volunteering on Vacation, Pacific Whale Foundation staff members, trained and certified by the national park, lead groups of volunteers on service trips to remove invasive species from Haleakala twice each month. Volunteers who participate in one of the Volunteering on Vacation service trips to Haleakala receive free transportation from Maalaea or Pukalani to the park and free park admission. All volunteers also receive a free, reusable Volunteering on Vacation canvas tote bag. To read more about Volunteering on Vacation, go to http://www.pacificwhale.org/sitecontent/content.php?PageId=78&menu=4&submenu=203.
During 2008, a total of 4,785 volunteer hours were contributed on behalf of Maui’s environment through the Volunteering on Vacation program. Of those, 686 hours benefitted Haleakala National Park.
“Surveys of participants in past volunteering projects indicate that the experience leaves many feeling inspired and empowered and instills a lasting commitment to proactive environmental activity,” said Niles. “Many people are amazed to learn how much of a difference they can make through small actions like a few hours’ work or subtle changes in the daily choices they make in their lives. What begins as a morning of pulling weeds might thus evolve into an ongoing commitment to environmental awareness. Involving students in such activity at the beginning of their high school careers might inspire such a commitment in them as well.”
“Volunteering offers many people opportunities to connect with the environment and expand their awareness of environmental issues in very dynamic and personal ways,” said Pacific Whale Foundation Conservation director Brooke Porter. “We’re so inundated now with information about climate change and all the things we can or should be doing to combat it that it’s easy to feel helpless or overwhelmed. Programs like these give people a chance to get involved, to do something fun and memorable, and to be reminded that it is possible for people to make a big difference through individual actions. It’s especially important to get keiki involved and interested early on. ”
Pacific Whale Foundation is committed to protecting, researching, and educating the public about the marine environment. The foundation also stresses the “mauka to makai” dynamic – the intimate connection that exists between everything that occurs on land and in the sea. Many of Pacific Whale Foundation’s activities and volunteer programs seek to protect the environmental integrity of the land in order to prevent harmful products and substances from finding their way into the marine environment. Pacific Whale Foundation also stresses marine and environmental education for children as a means of instilling environmental awareness and patterns of environmental responsibility in keiki as they grow up.
For more information on the Volunteering on Vacation program, visit www.pacificwhale.org or call (808) 249-8811 ext. 1.