The Elusive Brittle Star: Hawai’ian Nature Study

The tidal changes are not very distinct in Hawai’i. Despite this, we spent much of our time exploring the tide pools on many of the beaches while we were in Maui earlier this month. One of our most memorable moments was while we were strolling along Ma’alaea Beach north of Kihei. We walked along the boardwalk through Kealia Pond … observing the endangered Ae’o stilt birds. We then ventured out onto the beach first to find a cleverly hidden letterbox and then to enjoy the sunset.

While there, we came upon an exposed, flat rocky area (when we returned here later during our stay, this flat area was submerged below the water line). The kids delighted in exploring the little pools and nooks that provided protection to sea creatures. We observed many urchins and molluscs. The highlight was Buddy’s discovery of a very active brittle star. He had seen an arm protruding out of a small crevice and exclaimed, “I think I found an octopus!” as he bravely bravely stuck his hand in to gently remove the creature. When he brought his hand out, we observed immediately that it was not what he first suspected but an echinoderm. DH delighted in the discovery equally having not seen a sea star squirm about so actively.

We observed it briefly and then carefully returned it to it’s protective cove. When we returned to our condo later, I encouraged each of the kids to select one thing that was memorable to them. Buddy chose the brittle star. I’ve scanned his nature journal page for your enjoyment.

Malama Honokowai :: Weed Warriors

When we visited Maui in 2008, we took part in a Volunteers on Vacation weed pull through the Pacific Whale Foundation.  The kids and I had such a good time and enjoyed learning a little more about the native flora and fauna of the islands.

When we returned to Maui earlier this month, the kids were given the Maui Revealed book and were asked to make a list of all the things they wanted to do or see while we were there.  On the top of their list was the weed pull.  Rather than pull weeds on the beach however, as we did in 2008, we were able to take partner with Maui Cultural Lands to take part in the restoration efforts in the Honokowai Valley in North Maui.   

 “People who help the land and the culture,
who give unselfishly for the sake of the land,
they are the heroes, the real warriors.”
~Ed Lindsey, Project Director

From the Ka’anapali Coastline, Honokowai Valley is nothing more than a slim pleat in the West Maui Mountains. A simple stripe of green. Up close, it is overrun with invasive plants, like the haole koa, Chinaberry, and Java plum trees, that grow in mono-species thickets. One of the few Hawaii natives left here, kukui (candlenut) grow straight and narrow.  To get here, you have to drive to West Maui beyond the pineapple and sugar cane fields, beyond the ABC stores and vacation resorts along the coastline. You follow a dusty cane haul road up. You bounce along coffee fields and through invasive forests and padlocked gates.

Today, the land is cared for by a stalwart team of volunteers who form a community project called Maui Cultural Lands. The team embraces a big idea: To restore Honokowai Valley to a state of balance. To remove the invasives so the natives can grow. To clear the ancient rock walls that once made up house sites. To repair the taro patches. To return the place to such a state that the estimated 600 or so Hawaiian families who once lived between these slices of rock cliff walls might actually recognize the place.  One hundred years ago, this was a working village—in fact, the “breadbasket” for the Ka’anapali region. Here, ancient Hawaiians grew taro, sweet potato and squash in the rock terraces they built. They crafted fishhooks, lines and lures; poi pounders, kukui lamps and anchors. The valley gave them everything they had, everything they needed.

We joined the volunteer team on the Saturday before we departed for home.  Close to 20 of us volunteers piled in the back of 4WD pickup trucks, the act itself reminding me of day laborers hired to work the orchards and fields of southern California.  The day’s group consisted Puanani, her son Joe, several regulars: including Phyllis, Andy, David, Ipo, and Sylvia who will soon celebrate her 92nd birthday, two couples from Northern California and Melanie, a young woman from San Francisco and us.  It was a ragtag collection of ages, sexes, cultures and vocations coming together with a common purpose: to serve.

When we first arrived at our work site in the valley, Puanani gathered us all in a circle in the shadow of a towering stony cliff that framed one side of the valley. We joined hands and she welcomed us. We went around the ring introducing ourselves and sharing where we were from. Then, Puanani said, “These walls bear witness to all that has happened,” and she began to lead us in a chant in native Hawaiian.

Maui Cultural Lands, Inc (MCL) is a Maui-based grassroots land trust organization whose mission is to stabilize, protect, and restore Hawaiian cultural resources.  MCL was established as a non-profit organization in February of 2002 and is one of only a few land trust organizations on Maui targeting Hawaiian cultural lands along the coast and inland areas.  Their primary goal is to reforest Honokowai Valley and the Kaanapali area with native and endemic Hawaiian plant species. For more information about the work in the Honokowai Valley, follow these links:

Becoming a Junior Ranger at Haleakala National Park

While we were in Maui, Sweetie completed several activities at the Haleakala National Park to become a Junior Ranger. When we arrived, the ranger at the counter gave her a booklet and explained that for her age, she would need to complete 4 booklet activities (as there were no talks scheduled for the time we were there). The activities we selected were:

#1 What is Wilderness?
Whereby she learned about what activities are permitted in the wilderness area.

#2 Who is Native to Hawai’i?
Whereby she learned about the species that are native to Hawai’i and those that are not.

#3 What Animals Live Here?
Whereby she learned about habitats.

#4 Where is the Volcano?
Whereby she learned about volcanic rocks.

#5 Ancient Ways and Words for Today
Whereby she learned two Hawaiian words: malama ‘aina (to respect and care for the land) and alu like mai (pull together, work together)

Upon completion of the activities, Sweetie sat down with a ranger and was interviewed about what she had learned. I videotaped the interview and hope to post it here as soon as I can figure out how to download it off the video camera. During the interview, Sweetie described to her what she had learned about invasive species before our arrival. “I want to go to a luau so that I can eat bad pig!” (We didn’t explain to her that the kahlua pig isn’t likely the wild pig that is destroying the forests.)

Sweetie also told her about a snail that she had helped get across a trail so that it wouldn’t get stepped on. The ranger asked us to describe the snail and in doing so, we learned that based upon it’s size and color, it was likely the invasive African Cannibalistic Snail. “The native tree snails are found higher in elevation.” Sweetie was distraught, “Oh no! I should have stepped on it then!” The ranger got a chuckle out of that.

Most National Park Service sites that have a Junior Ranger program award participants a plastic badge for completing the program. Some award a patch; a few award a lapel pin. Some do both. Haleakala awarded a badge. However, they had patches available for purchase so we bought one as they are our preference. As she completes future Junior Ranger programs, I’ll make a banner for her to display her badges & patches.

Click here for more information about the National Parks Junior Ranger program. Another very informative site was created by a teen… Sam Maslow’s Junior Ranger Site.