Hilo, Hawaii. Where I spent the first five months of 2018. Where most locals wear ‘slippas’ everyday of the year and always leave them at the door. Where “ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” is sent to the entire state population by accident. Where Spam has an entire display in the grocery store and is eaten in ways I didn’t know where possible, including sushi. Where breaching humpback whales are seen from shore. Where coqui frogs are heard all night, creating a symphony of “coooquiiiii.” Where 1,000 foot waterfalls abound. Where the summit of the tallest volcano in the world, Mauna Kea, can be caught with snow fall. Where a night scuba dive with 20 manta rays the size of a small car is not uncommon. Where the locals call everyone ‘auntie’, ‘uncle’ and ‘cousin,’ after all most of the island is related in someway. Where jumping out of a small plane at 13,000 feet and falling through a hole in the clouds is the best way to spend a Saturday. Where some of the world’s most endangered birds are on the brink of being gone forever. Where volcanoes erupt without notice, announcing the new flow with 100s of earthquakes over the course of finals week, the largest a 6.9 magnitude.
While the experiences that I had while on the Big Island of Hawaii are ones that I will never forget, what still rattles around in my head day to day are the conservation challenges that I experienced. Many people from around the world come to experience Hawaii’s beauty without realizing the impact that they are causing on that very allure. I had a professor explain this scenario as “nature’s Disneyland.” Hawaii has been through or is currently going through many conservation challenges of today; overfishing, extirpations of native species, near extinctions, spread of disease through wildlife, loss of habitat, competition with feral or non-native species, and many more. In many ways I believe Hawaii can be seen as a case study for the earth. Humans are causing great destruction to the aina (Hawaiian for land) and many lessons can be learned looking forward with a global mindset in conservation.