Registered: September 2008
City/Town/Province: monmouth junction
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During April of 2008, I was accepted to a program provided by Brown University called BELL (Brown Environmental Leadership Lab) that took place in Hawaii. I was one of seventeen students and five chaperones from around the world. We were located on the main island (Hawaii) during the entirety of the trip. The first half was spent on the Eastern coast of the Island in the Volcanoes National Park. While at this site, the group spent a lot of time learning about the invasive species that make up 100% of the state's population. Most of it was site-seeing and visiting natural lava tubes and the volcanoes. The second half of the trip consisted of community service. We visited Kona, Hawaii and cleared an acre of dry land forest of invasive and harmful vegetation. We also went snorkeling and learned about the bleaching of coral and the abandonment of the zooxanthellae.
All of the plants we encountered we unique. Many of the plants have lost their defense mechanisms over the years because of lack of use. For example, mint lost its taste; it was originally developed through evolution as a defense mechanism so tat animals would not eat it, but because no native animals pose a threat to the mint, it has no need for defense. Poison ivy was also found on the island but it was not poisonous for the same reason that the mint was not minty- it had no need to be. There are several other examples of plants that would be avoided in their natural habitats but are harmless on the island of Hawaii. Many of the animals there have also adapted to their new surroundings. Several different species of finch are found only in Hawaii and nowhere else in the world.
During the community service portion of the trip, we entered a rainforest that is part of a reservation and museum. It is not preserving the animals but the plants. As mentioned before, all of the plants found on the island came from somewhere else. Lava is the most fertile soil on earth so it is easy for anything to grow but because of the climate, some plants grow better than others. This is why we visited this rain forest. Plants presently introduced are overtaking some of the plants that had been there for many years. We removed an acre of what is known as sugar cane in the United States. The sugar cane was sucking the moisture out of the soil and preventing some of the older plants from growing there. Another day we visited a dry land forest, which is very similar to a rainforest, only the amount of rain differs and therefore affects the height of trees. There, fountain grass prevents the trees from obtaining what little water there is in the soil. We cleared at least an acre of land and planted some of the more “native” species of plants like trees and particular flowers. We had to be very careful, however, or we could also introduce plants into other areas of the forest. When we left the acre of cleared land, we had to brush ourselves off of any seeds that could possibly germinate in another part of the forest.
While conducting this project, I felt like I was making a difference. Though we could not do much to help, what we did felt like a lot. By removing the invasive species in the area, I felt like we were helping other plants survive in a place they had inhabited for many years. I also think that the natives of the area realized that there are people that care about what is going on in our world today, especially kids. I think that we helped them open their minds to what they can do themselves. The fact that we all came thousands of miles away from our own homes to help them in theirs was a powerful thing to some people, and we noticed it. I liked having people come up to thank me for helping their home survive.
In order to progress and provide a long-term solution for a problem such as invasive species, people have to react now and continue to react. One day of clearing land will prevent plants from taking over for a long time, people have to continue to react to these situations and continue to clear land and plant “native” seeds. Just like any other project: saving the environment is not a one-time deal; we must continue to care and continue to take action.
I believe it is important to continue to care for this particular environment because it is the place in which many farmlands grow their crops. Many families depend on the growth of the crops, not only the farmers, but the consumers as well. If the plants are overtaken by the fountain grass and sugarcane, then the farmers will relocate, and there is only so much room on an island. When the invasive species move in, they strip the land. When the farmers clear it out, it sometimes takes years for the land to replenish itself before the farmers can reuse its resources. It is important to catch the invaders early before they strip the land and reproduce.
After completing the clean up, I have a greater understanding of the environment and its fragility in contrast with its strength. On one side of the spectrum, the environment is interdependent on all of its inhabitants while on the other side of the spectrum, it rejects the unfamiliar pathogenic inhabitants that try to make a home. The environment is a direct result of the behaviors of its inhabitants. We, as humans, are taking much more than we need from the environment and don’t give anything back. I think this project is good for anyone who thinks that they have lost touch with the place they call home.