Ahupua’a Summer: Environmental Science from the Mountains to the Sea
Ancient Hawaiians lived by the ahupua’a system; dividing the islands into territories stretching from the mountains to the sea. Those living at high elevations harvested hardwoods used for tools and canoes. Those at mid elevations farmed and raised livestock. Those on the coast fished. Extended families shared with each other, and all their needs were met sustainably. Today, the Big Island is a living classroom with 11 out of 13 climate zones at our fingertips. It is a laboratory of experimentation with wind, solar, and geothermal energy; in an effort to meet the needs of the local community. Sparsely populated, there is ample room for sustainable agriculture; including aquaponics and traditional farming. There is simply no place better to study the interconnectedness of life on this planet and how humans can make a difference.
The curriculum is developed and taught by a college professor, a high school science teacher, and field instructors. This intensive 80 hour course may be eligible for an Environmental Science credit from the student’s sending school. Participants also complete 20 hours of community service; giving back to the environment while they learn about it. This course was created for motivated students who have finished 9th, 10th or 11th grade and have Biology as a prerequisite. (Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis, but eligibility for high school credit may be affected.)
Topics covered are: I. Earth Systems and Resources II. The Living World III. Population IV. Land and Water Use V. Energy Resources and Consumption VI. Pollution VII. Global Change
Days 1-2- Snow After a thorough orientation and team-building initiatives, we summit Mauna Kea; the tallest peak in the Pacific and home of the world’s finest astronomy. From 13,000 feet we study the Ahupua’a concept and the geographic features of the island.
Days 3-7- Lava Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been honored as a “World Heritage Site” and “International Biosphere Reserve.” With it’s vast, ever-changing landscapes, there’s no place on earth quite like it! Here we study ecosystem structure, diversity and change, energy flow, and discuss land use issues. We practice identifying the local flora and fauna and using field research methods such as plot sampling, radio telemetry, and GIS-mapping. A habitat restoration service project is included.
Days 8-9 Waipio Valley A cultural treasure, this lush valley is one of the most sacred places in the Islands. Known as the “Valley of the Kings,” it was once a flourishing community of Hawaiian royalty. We will discuss water use issues and learn about a river ecosystem as we hike upriver to Hi’ilawe Falls, a stunning 1,000 ft waterfall.
Days 10-12 The Life of the Land Ancient Hawaiians lived in harmony with the land; giving respect in exchange for the necessities of life. After a day of rest at the nearby base camp, we return to Waipio to give back to the land. A few families still keep Hawaiian culture alive by cultivating and harvesting traditional taro crops to make poi. Experience the history and culture of this place by learning from a local farmer and helping him work in his taro patch. Then we’ll tour various other farms in the area to see modern sustainable farming methods in practice. We will study soil and soil dynamics, population size and strategies for sustainability, and agricultural land use issues.
Day 13-15 Renewable Energy Wind, water, solar, and geothermal are sources of energy used by the local community. The Big Island still has a ways to go to be completely self-sufficient in terms of energy, but is a model for experimentation in this field. We will explore energy concepts in a presentation at the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii Association (NELHA) in Kona. We will discuss controversies associated with various forms of renewable energy after a tour of the Puna Geothermal Plant in Pahoa. We’ll also take a break from energy concepts to sail in Hilo Bay and snorkel in the Kapoho tide pools. A lecture at NOAA’s Mokupapapa Learning Center will introduce issues in marine ecosystem such as marine debris in the North Hawaiian islands.
Day 16-17 Dryland Forest To contrast the lush Waipio Valley and the misty forests of the National Park, we’ll hike in a dryland forest and participate in a habitat restoration project. We’ll relax after with lunch at the beach and another snorkeling adventure. We’ll practice identifying fish and other marine life and begin to discuss human impact on the marine ecosystem. A day of rest will prepare us for the last leg of our journey.
Day 18-21 Marine Ecosystem Having already explored the “mauka side” or mountain regions of the island, we will end our course with a 4-day circle island trip to South Point and South Kona to experience various coastal and marine habitats. We’ll witness beach litter from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and participate in an intense beach clean-up. We’ll help to restore endangered Hawksbill sea turtle nesting area. We’ll end by snorkeling the pristine waters of the southern Kona coast. Topics reviewed and covered during this section are ecosystem structure, atmosphere and ocean interaction, habitat destruction, and pollution.
Day 22-24 Ho’ike and Aloha To finish the course, we’ll celebrate what we’ve learned with a “ho’ike,” or presentations, and enjoy a final lu’au. Students will return home with a field notebook full of illustrations and assignments, a grade for the class, new outdoor and scientific skills, and a resolve to apply their knowledge to benefit their home communities.
Dates: July 5-28
Cost: $4,995 (Hawaii Residents $4,595)
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