Thursday, 24 April 2014

Post 15: Conservation in Hawaii, and Humpback Whales

Marking has concluded; reading the final projects was so much fun. By and large they were well done, and I am pleased with the work the students did this semester. What a pleasure to participate in shaping their learning and experience.

My partner and I took a quick leap half way across the Pacific to spend a bit of time in Oahu and Maui, Hawaii, two of the medium-sized islands. What a blast it was—literally and figuratively: the trade winds made sure they were a steady companion, helping to dampen the heat and on our first day, blew away my light jacket! Between snorkelling a volcanic crater called Molokini, and finding out about the wonders of coral reefs, and driving up 10,000 feet to the top of Haleakala, Maui's dormant volcano, and in so doing passing through at least 3 major ecosystem types (forest, meadow, and almost a desert-like barrenness with flightless moths and carnivorous caterpillars, and a plant endemic to only top 1,000 feet of Haleakala, called Ahinahina, or silver sword), and hiking a 1050 step abandoned trolley line up Koko Head to view the spectacular sights of south-eastern Oahu, we had a really good time.

At the top of Haleakala. The colours were phenomenal.

                                       My photo of the Ahinahina. The sword part wasn't growing
                                       — I don't think it was the season for it. :)
We also got to participate in some of the more casual conservation efforts of Maui. Nearly at the end of the snorkelling experience, free beach clean-up kits were offered on the boat. As the guides pointed out, if only a few people participated in cleaning up the beaches, it would help prevent some of the garbage that harms the water-bound species (especially) of Hawaii, including the endangered green sea turtle, that, for example, mistakes plastic bags for the jelly fish they enjoy snacking on. So, we grabbed a kit, had an immensely lovely wander down Kaanapali Beach on the northwestern side of the Island, catching a brilliant sunset and picking up cigarette butts, beer bottle caps, drinking straws, a lonely water shoe, sand-encrusted jelly beans and gummies, pop bottles, and other lovely things that are left on beaches. We filled out a form to include and drop-off with the bag of garbage, for the research purposes of the Pacific Whale Foundation. They gave us a beautiful and sturdy canvas bag that says, "Save the Whales" on it.

                                        Baldwin beach -- not the one we cleaned up, but this gives a
                                        sense of just how beautiful the beaches were.

I used that bag for my grocery shopping this evening - the first shop back since arriving back yesterday. The grocery clerk packing my bag in the store looked at the bag, saying, "Oh beautiful!" Then she read "Save the Whales," written on the bag, and it was with great sadness that I realized, what a coincidence: the print of the breeching whale on the bag is the same hump back whale that I saw briefly  off the side of the snorkelling boat in Hawaii, and is the same whale species that the current federal conservative government just down-graded for its conservation status here in Canada. The status of the whales were a "threatened" species, but have now been classed as a species of "special concern." This is the whale whose critical breeding habitats just off of Kitimat will no longer be protected; this is the whale that used to pose an environmental problem for the Northern Gateway project. Now, downgrading their conservation status means that is no longer the case. It seems that if the environment doesn't line up with the government, then the significance of the environment can be changed to suit the government's need. So very, very sad. And this was done on Earth Day, no less.

Considering that the Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion will triple the tanker traffic coming out of the Burrard Inlet, it does not seem to me that the threats to the whales will diminish any time in the future.

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