Team for Trees
Hawaii has a well-earned reputation as a lush tropical oasis, bedecked with dazzling flowers and swathes of greenery in between its outcroppings of volcanic rock. Visitors are often surprised to discover, however, that the smallest of the Hawaiian islands, Kaho’olawe, is best described as desolate and barren, devastated first by decades of overgrazing by goats and cattle, then used as a training ground and bombing range for the US armed forces from World War II until 1990.
But positive change is underway. Inspired by the worldwide mandate of Four Seasons to plant 10 million trees, Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea staff joined forces with the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to help restore the island’s ravaged environment. In November of 2011, volunteers travelled to Kaho’olawe, 7 miles (11 kilometres) southwest of Maui, to join group leader and KIRC natural reserve specialist Lopaka White. For four days in dry, dusty and sometimes dangerous conditions (unexploded ordinances posed a potential threat), they planted more than 2,000 native trees, shrubs and grasses, soaking in the spirit of the land all the while. For many, it was a transformative experience, made possible by engaging in traditional Hawaiian protocols and celestial observation, all within the framework of imua (teamwork). “To heal an island leads to healing yourself,” observed one volunteer. Another added, “The ‘aina, the land, can teach us, and the wisdom of indigenous peoples can help us interpret what it’s saying.”
“If even just one plant can make it, if just one plant can go to seed and grow, we’ve been successful,” says White. “You can feel that driving force that moves the universe right here.” After all, to Hawaiians the island is known as Kanaloa, named after one of the major deities. With luck, patience and time, this stark island will one day be restored to its true place in the Hawaiian culture and ecosystem.
Want to learn more? The restoration project was the subject of the short film To Heal an Island, an official selection in the 2012 Maui Film Festival.