Recently in Hawai'i Category


It took me a few tries to wrap my head around this headline about a recent NOAA study:

US Residents Say Hawaii's Coral Reef Ecosystems Worth $33.57 Billion Per Year

Did you catch that? We often talk about the "worth" of coral reefs in terms of the revenue they can generate for local communities via fishing or tourism. But this is different. This is the amount of money Americans say they're willing to pay to ensure that Hawaii's reefs are safe and healthy.

Thumbnail image for DSC07965pEARLWALL1OCT07.JPGThe key point here is that the survey pool comprised "a representative sample of all US residents" -- meaning, it included tons of people who have never seen Hawaii's coral reefs and never will. They just like the idea that they exist!

In fact, when you look at per-household figures, it turns out they like it a lot.

The study breaks down coral reef conservation into two types: "Ecosystem-wide Protection & Restoration" and "Restoration after Localized Injuries." (That last one referring to fixing the damage caused by, say, wayward boats.) Put them together and the average amount a household is willing to pay is $287.62.

Sound like a lot? It is. Forgive the rough comparison, but say your household income is $50,000 (about the national median) and you're married with a kid. Two-hundred and eighty-seven dollars is more than you would pay in federal income taxes for everything other than Social Security and Medicare -- meaning national defense, health care, unemployment insurance, education, NASA, FEMA, Homeland Security, and so on, combined. And that's just for the coral reefs in Hawaii!

Who knows if these households are truly prepared to pony up $287 in the name of reef conservation. But even if the number is inflated, it suggests something quite interesting: it may be easy for us to not think about conservation, but it's apparently very difficult for us to choose inaction... so long as we're asked to choose something.


Breadfruit: A Symbol of Island Life

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Breadfruit trees (Artocarpus altilis) can grow to 65 feet and produce round, heavy fruit for 50 years. 'Ulu, as we call it in Hawai'i, is found on many islands around the world, and its large, glossy leaves with small bumps are a common Hawaiian quilt pattern (below). The skin of the large fruit is green and bumpy, the flesh starchy and white or pale yellow.

Breadfruit Quilt Pattern.jpgAs a food, breadfruit (always cooked) is common throughout the Pacific. When I studied in Samoa, breadfruit was served every day in the cafeteria, prepared boiled--and very bland. In contrast, roasted breadfruit (either cooked in a modern oven or the traditional underground oven) is delicious, and in Samoa the fruit is used as a vehicle for palusami, coconut milk and onions in taro leaf. This dish is one of the things I miss most about Samoa.

Jonny Hogg has written a very interesting article regarding the tension between the environment and tourism development in Mauritius. It's a good snapshot of how the Indian Ocean island nation is caught between economic sustainability and conservation - a dilemma facing countless islands throughout the world.

I traveled to Micronesia in June and July of this year to visit Seacology projects on Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap and Palau. I was struck by the fact that those islands are relatively unspoiled largely due to their remoteness - especially after overnighting in Honolulu, which was particularly depressing and full of island development "don'ts." After the decline in tourism from the US and Asia, Micronesia is struggling to attract visitors to its natural wonders. So far, for the most part development has been slow and careful - too slow for many. However, Palau, with its proximity to Asia, has a fairly thriving tourism economy. The Palau Conservation Society, our project partner there, has worked to help create responsible tourism standards and have trained numerous guides regarding environmentally friendly ways to expose visitors to the nation's marine and terrestrial wonders. This sort of successful collaboration between private tourism and conservation organizations is an ideal way to safeguard the natural treasures of islands.

Polynesians share many similar cultural traits, from language and music to family structure. One of the most sacred of Polynesian traditions, the kava ceremony, is also one of the most well-known. Tasting like a wet dish towel to my unrefined palette, kava is a relaxant which was banned in 2003 by several countries because of medical concerns. A recent push to lift that ban (Fiji Times article, September 24) and a new University of Hawai'i study (Honolulu Advertiser article by Dan Nakaso, September 22) brings kava back into the news. Despite these developments, it is the tradition of the kava ceremony that interests me most.

Kava has many names: 'ava in Samoa, 'awa in Hawai'i, yaqona in Fiji, and sakau in Micronesia. The drink is made from the ground root of the pepper plant Piper methysticum. The root, a long beige stick about 2 inches in diameter, is ground to a pulp and then massaged in a sack made from coconut fiber and mixed with water to make the juice. The drink is collected in a wooden bowl with legs and one uses a half-coconut shell to scoop the liquid.