Jeannie Marie Nanpei, above, a student from Micronesia, studied coral disease in Kaneohe Bay as part of a mentoring program in environmental biology run by UH Kewalo Marine Laboratory. CLICK FOR LARGE
Preserving Pacific reefs
A Kewalo lab teaches young islanders about the threat to corals
Amata Kabua saw red algae killing the coral reef off Kaimana Beach.
The 23-year-old wants to prevent invasive algae from doing the same at his home on Majuro Atoll.
"All the coral reef is covered with red algae," he said after snorkeling off Kaimana Beach. "It is killing the coral and changing the composition of the environment."
Son of the late Amata Kabua, first president of the Marshall Islands, he was one of 11 students from Polynesian and Micronesian islands studying environmental biology here this summer.
He hopes to enroll in the University of Hawaii at Manoa or Hilo this fall to work on a Bachelor of Science degree so he can use the knowledge for conservation efforts in the Marshalls.
Nearly 70 Pacific island students with similar goals have participated in an undergraduate mentoring program in environmental biology since it began at the UH Kewalo Marine Laboratory in 1999.
J.J. Williams Jr., a student at Chaminade University, also participated in the program. CLICK FOR LARGE
The goal is to encourage students who are underrepresented in biological sciences to pursue studies in environmental biology, said Michael Hadfield, former Kewalo Laboratory director. He is principal investigator for the program, funded by the National Science Foundation.
The students participate in training and research projects at UH-Manoa or Chaminade University, and they take field trips to see the effect of invasive species and pollutants on terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
This is one of several programs under way to try to interest young Pacific islanders in marine and environmental sciences, said Bob Richmond, co-principal investigator with Gail Grabowsky of Chaminade University and Celia Smith of the UH-Manoa Botany Department.
"The reward is just seeing them come so far so fast," he said after students in this summer's program described their research in a symposium Friday. "Nothing is more rewarding to a researcher and teacher than to impact future generations in a positive way," he said.
"It's not the science so much as what it means to them and how they can use it," added Richmond, formerly at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory.
With the knowledge and science available today, he said, the students can influence development of good policies in their islands. They are also building a cohort of colleagues among the islands, he said. "History has taught us, when islands work together, they accomplish more."
Jimmy Gallen, a student from the College of Micronesia, examined genetic differences among the population of Gracilaria salicornia, a form of algae, in Waikiki reefs. CLICK FOR LARGE
Kaipo Perez, 22, the only Hawaii student this summer, said he is "trying to investigate different problems people walk by" and ignore, such as the effect of runoff on coral reefs and how important they are.
Perez will be a UH senior in the fall, working on a Bachelor of Science degree. He hopes to pursue research and teach after graduating.
This summer he studied the effect of sediments from urban development on coral reefs. "If we can figure out the range for sediments and how they affect the settlement of particular corals," he said, "we can take a pre-emptive strike (to protect corals) and not say, 'Where did they go?'"
Students in the 10-week program receive $4,000, paid airfare and supplies. Some, such as Peltin Pelep, 24, of Pohnpei, also receive $15,000, plus their ticket, for a yearlong internship.
Hadfield said a student asked him why the Kewalo Lab does this program. "I think it may be the most important thing we do," he replied.
The lab also "did something really amazing" with an extra $160,000 from the NSF to upgrade training for community college teachers from Micronesia, he said. About eight instructors came for two summers and went home with training and "footlocker labs" of equipment for molecular genetics.