Thursday, April 19, 2001

City environmental information specialist Bob Rock instructs
volunteers at a City Mill location on how to stencil storm drain
messages. It's one of the many activities Rock promotes
to foster a better environment.

specialist fights to
get people aware
and involved

Bob Rock takes his job
seriously in his quest
for conservation

By Diana Leone

Since the '70s, people have taken April 22 -- or sometimes the whole month of April -- to consider the relationship between humans and the planet we call home.

Earth Day and Earth month activities often revolve around recycling, tree planting and other caring-for-the-Earth actions.

But every day is Earth Day for Bob Rock, city environmental information specialist.

His mission is to raise public awareness about polluting less and helping the environment more, something he stresses is quite do-able.

He's constantly on the run, speaking to community, school and environmental groups about how they can become "part of the solution, instead of the pollution."

Under his jurisdiction are the city's Adopt-a programs: Adopt-a-Stream, Adopt-a-Beach, Adopt-a-Park and Adopt-a-Block.

Each of the programs emerged as more and more volunteer groups wanted to help do something for the environment, "so, we just kept adding things to adopt," he said.

If a group doesn't want the long-term commitment of an adoption, no problem. Rock can set them up for a one-time cleanup.

As a warrior against nonpoint-source pollution, Rock helps volunteers stencil those reminders on storm drains that the stuff that washes off our streets and driveways goes directly into our streams and the ocean.

His foot soldiers in the battle for the Earth are volunteers from all walks of life and all parts of the island. His arsenal includes trash bags, gloves, paint and other supplies. His marching orders are enthusiasm for the work and the community partnerships that make it possible.

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," Rock says.

"I've seen some pretty putrid stuff running off some of these driveways," he said. "I asked this one guy why he was washing all this junk -- greases and oils -- off the driveway into the gutter and he said, 'I don't want to wash it on my grass; it'll kill it.'"

In typical Rock fashion he replied, "But by washing it into the storm drain it's going to kill everything there!"

"We're not out there to fine, destroy businesses, just out there to help education and let them know there's probably a better way to do things," Rock says.

Of course he's not averse to pointing out that the federal Clean Water Act could see a person fined up to $27,500 per violation. Just another day in the life of a crusader for a better planet.

But the job's not about being an environmental cop so much as a teacher and a problem solver.

Among the city's "green" partnerships is an agreement to dispose of junk fishnets and other debris retrieved from the French Frigate Shoals by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So far, nets have been landfilled. But Rock is exploring making them available to recycle into hammocks or burning them as a substitute fuel.

"We're trying to bring this thing full circle, from being a killer of marine life in the sea, to being recycled into something that benefits mankind and marine life," Rock says.

A big success story is the group Nani 'O Waianae, which, he says, has "beautified the whole coast from Nanakuli almost to Waianae -- planting trees, painting comfort stations at parks, doing litter cleanup and tire collection."

One of Rock's mottos is "they're never too young to learn about the environment."

Children get a big kick out of his dinosaur anecdote to illustrate the preciousness of drinking water. After telling them that 80 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water, Rock points out that only 1 percent of that is drinkable.

"Then I tell them that it's the same water recycled since time began," he says "We are drinking the same water as the dinosaurs did. We need to protect it for your children."


Here are some Earth Day-related activities:

>> Saturday: Kawai Nui March and Holomakani Heiau Cleanup, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Contact Chuck Doc Burrows 595-3922 or

>> Saturday: Kolea and Native Shorebird Workshop for teachers and other educators. Hosted by the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology Program at the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Contact Gus Bodner at 956-4717 or

>> Saturday and Sunday: Great Keiki & Teen Fest at Ala Moana Beach Park, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. each day. Rides, entertainment, information booths. Sponsored by Atlantis Adventures with participation from Coastal Zone Management Hawaii. For information contact Lynn Nakagawa at 587-2898.

>> Sunday: Kailua Beach Cleanups, 9 a.m.-11 a.m., sponsored by Kokua@Kailua, contact Rep. Pendleton at 586-9490 or Scott Rawson, 586-9282. And 10 a.m.-noon, sponsored by Protect the Planet. Contact Debbie Pollock at 226-1464 or

>> April 28: Great Hawaii Cleanup, 8:30-noon, sponsored by Nani 'O Waianae. Beautification, tire and battery roundups and cleanup of parks and beaches. Contact Nani 'O Waianae, 696-1920. Kalihi Stream Cleanup, 8 a.m.-noon, sponsored by Protect the Planet. Contact Debbie Pollock at 226-1464.

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