DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Various youth and student groups are volunteering in wetland restoration at Kawainui Marsh in Kailua. Here, Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps volunteers work in the mud, digging and opening up a waterway surrounding an area for birds so mongoose can't get at the nests.
Volunteers toil in Kawainui Marsh
For volunteers from the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, hard work is their idea of summer fun.
» To learn more about Ahahui Malama I Ka Lokahi and its Kawainui Marsh work and to support their restoration efforts or go on an educational tour please visit: www.ahahui.net or call 593-0112.
» For more information on the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, visit www.hawaiiycc.com
More than 10 students under team leader Carly Borken, 25, labored in the mud and sun this month at Kawainui Marsh in Kailua as part of a six-week summer program of environmental conservation work that takes them all over the state.
"We want the volunteers down there, getting muddy, wet and dirty," said Chuck Burrows, president of Ahahui Malama I Ka Lokahi, a community group that works primarily to restore the Kawainui Marsh in Kailua.
"This is what I call dedicated, you gotta be committed," he said as the Conservation Corps team labored in the mud to build a temporary walkway out of mud at the edge of the marsh.
For eight years, the Kawainui Marsh in Kailua has been undergoing a dramatic transformation, boosted by international recognition as a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance in 2005. One of the prime focuses is wetland bird habitat restoration efforts conducted entirely by volunteers such as the youth from the Conservation Corps.
It is a six-week summer program for high school sophomores through college sophomores, or ages 15-20. Volunteers can receive college credit and a $1,000 stipend.
The volunteers work on removing invasive species, such as the grasses that choke up and cover most of the wetland, and aim to make it hospitable to endangered native bird species such as the Hawaiian stilt, moorhen, coot, duck and heron. They clear brush and non-native trees, and constructed islands from grasses to be used as nesting areas by the Hawaiian moorhen or alaeula, said Burrows.
And they do it all by hand.
"My friends are like, 'Oh, you're so dark,' and I'm like, 'Well, yeah, that's 'cause I work outside every day,'" said Conservation Corps volunteer Katie Weeks, 19, who is home on break from college on the mainland.
"I feel like I learned more this summer than I did throughout high school," said volunteer Naomi LeonGuererro, 18, who will soon be going to Hawaii Pacific University to study marine biology.
The nearly 1,000-acre marsh, the largest wetland in Hawaii, was formerly a large fishpond and was once part of a major agricultural ahupuaa, or district, feeding up to 10,000 people by growing breadfruit, taro, sugar cane and sweet potato. After the plantation era, it was used to grow rice and now is partly used for cattle grazing.
Burrows would like to see it restored to its ancient agricultural glory by once again growing crops such as taro, which could one day feed people in an emergency or as part of a move toward sustainability.
"We have to learn from indigenous peoples as to how to care for the land. ... If the shipping stopped food, our supply wouldn't last three weeks," he mused.