Guest blogger: Lily Tsukayama
It is sunrise on Lana’i. When I wake up, everything is silent. All of the sounds from the night before—the howling wind against our tent, the creaking of the dense kiawe tree forest surrounding us, the crashing of the waves—are just distant memories. I get up and follow the sun out of our dark kiawe haven. The sand feels soft and cool between my toes. I am looking upon a glassy ocean, glazed yellow and orange by the sun’s warm glow. In the distance are two dark landmasses still untouched by the sunrise, Moloka’i to my left and Maui to my right. This is my new office for the day.
I have grown quite accustomed to the Honolulu lifestyle. I live with my grandmother, we eat Japanese food for dinner every night and split a papaya for breakfast every morning. I take a long, comfortable bus ride to and from an air-conditioned office that observes a strict “shoes optional” policy. My commute takes me through town and along the ocean, around Diamondhead and toward Koko Head – one volcano crater to another and back again. My daily routine also includes learning new Hawaiian words and phrases and using the shaka sign to greet someone.
I spend my days at the Conservation International Honolulu field office poring over digitized images of Lana’i, one of Hawaii’s many islands, and using tools like ArcGIS to identify watersheds that are in need of restoration. But a computer screen can only teach so much. So three of us from the office hop on a plane and take a thirty-minute flight out to Lana’i, where I find myself at sunrise one morning. For two days, we traverse the island. We travel along stream networks, from the top of the watersheds (mauka) down to the ocean (makai), from land to sea, from ridge to reef. While computer analysis tools are extremely useful, I learn more about Lana’i in these two short days than I ever could have from a screen.
Back in Oahu, I am grateful that I am able to spend time with Hawaiian relatives this summer. I have strong family ties here and, aside from my internship, I want to learn as much as I can about the islands. I go hiking, snorkeling, and surfing. I learn ukulele and sit around to ‘talk story’ with my grandmother. This internship allows me to learn more about the culture, history, and environment of one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. But it has also allowed me to better know my family and heritage and to realize, in part, my childhood dream of living in Hawaii.
Lily Tsukayama is a 2016 MESM student specializing in Coastal Marine Resource Management and Economics and Politics of the Environment. She also has a focus in Strategic Environmental Communication and Media. This summer she is interning with Conservation International’s Hawaii field office.