The Yin Yang Dive

Environmental Heroes

Can Ag Survive?


Keoki Freeland

The Growing Fields

Perceptions of Reality



M  A  U  I     S  T  Y  L  E

Environmental Heroes
by Helen Gillette

Through the years, the natural environment of these Islands has endured much.

Thankfully however, Maui is blessed with lots of public-spirited volunteers who are out there doing what they can to make a difference. Whether it’s reforesting, recycling, or protecting our endangered species, these folks are saving and preserving our environment one tree, one turtle, one landfill at a time. We’ve selected just a very few to honor here.

With a Computer and Shovel
Photo: Ron Dahlquist

In a scrubby gulch of a Kihei subdivision, two blocks from his home, Lee Altenberg is busy planting a forest.

This gulch, running from the 5,000-foot level of Haleakala to the Kama‘ole beaches, was once filled with native forest, most of which was long ago trampled and eaten by cattle, and crowded out by invasive species.

For about three years, Altenberg, a computer science professor with the University of Hawai‘i, has been rooting out the intruders, what he calls “all those Walmart weeds,” while nurturing the few remaining natives, and planting new ones—already more than 20 species that once thrived in this area.

Altenberg takes the cuttings and seeds from plants like naio, koai‘e, wili wili, ‘a‘ali‘i and ‘ohai growing in the Palauea Beach area south of Wailea, where planned development will further eat into the remnants of the dry land forest there. He tries to propagate the cuttings and seeds in his little backyard nursery. When they’re sturdy enough, he transplants them at the gulch, regularly returning to water and nurture them.

Through the years, Altenberg has been a working volunteer on a number of reforesting projects, including the forest remnants at Auwahi and Pu‘u O Kali, high on the flanks of Haleakala.

Along with shovel and hoe, Altenberg also uses the computer to help save the native flora. His work with the university involves investigating the theoretical foundations of evolution and evolutionary processes. He says he went into this complex branch of computer science because of its promise for making discoveries that could help the world’s living conditions.

“As a kid I wanted to use computers to save the ecology, Altenberg says.

“Now I just think that maybe we should try to do it one backyard at a time.”

It would make a difference, he says, if neighbors started putting native plants in their yards.

And if you want to help out in the gulches, Altenberg says “you’re welcome to join ‘Lee’s Gym.’ Just come on over, and I’ll hand you a pick.” You can call him at 875-0745.

Aloha Shares
“One Man’s Trash”

Joy Webster’s husband, architect Jim Hestand, used to come home telling her about all the good, usable items he saw being hauled to the landfill—lumber, light fixtures, furniture, fancy appliances—items left over from building and remodeling projects.

Webster attacked the situation. Working through the Maui Recycling Group, (she edits its quarterly Recycling Guide), Webster spent months organizing a database of willing “donors” and nonprofits. The effort is called “AlohaShares.”

“The aim,” she says, “is to keep usable materials out of Hawai‘i landfills, and get them into the hands of our nonprofits, churches and schools.” Nonprofits post their wish lists online at A business or individual with items to give away posts lists of “give-aways,” and nonprofits consult the web address to see what’s available.

The process is handled almost entirely by email. The first nonprofit responding gets the item. The cost: nothing. There’s no charge to anybody. Alohashares expenses are carried by the Maui Recycling Group, which is not funded by the county. Expenses are paid from grants, when they are available. Volunteers work without pay. Any group or individual may join the donor group. Recipients must be nonprofit organizations, churches or schools registered in this state.

Toll-free: 1-866-542-2232 or

Labor of Love

Down in the Kanaha Beach dunes, just off the Kahului Airport runways, almost every morning you’ll find this big bear of a man busy tending what he calls his “17-acre garden.”

For months now, retired Lahaina postmaster John “Mike” Perry has been ridding the beach area of what he calls “scrubby, ugly invasive plants” so that the “small remaining islands” of native Hawaiian plants can spread.

He says that he finds that if he just eliminates the Johnny-come-lately
stuff, the good heritage plants will gradually recover and expand. “It’s a lot less work than transplanting tender little greenhouse plants, and it works better.”

The beach area from the Kahului Wastewater treatment plant to the airport’s edge already looks much better, with pretty little pink-flowered naio and others spreading over the dunes.

A year ago Perry had already put in so many volunteer hours that the county, under its Retired Senior Volunteer program gave him its annual Tony Tomoso “Outstanding Volunteer” Award for 2002. He’d chalked up over 1,100 hours that year alone. U.S. Geological Survey botanist Forest Starr said the Kanaha restoration project is especially significant because the area contains some of the Islands’ last undeveloped coastal dunes.

Clearly, this is a labor of love for Perry. Not only does he not get paid, he seems to be putting his own money into the project.
Perry never says no to volunteer help, so go on down and hunt him up. Call him at 572-9836.

Honu 'Ohana
Photo: Ron Dahlquist

Everybody's heard that our Hawaiian sea turtles need help.  Of all the hatchlings that crawl out of the nest, only about one in a thousand makes it to maturity.  There are lots of predators out there, both on the beach and in the ocean.

Happily, the turtles have some devoted human friends, a bunch of dedicated volunteers to watch over them. 

For instance, there's Maui dentist Steven Williams.  For the past seven years he has coordinated the Turtle Dawn Patrol on the beaches from Ma'alaea to Big Beach, taking turns with this band of 30-some volunteers - among them, his wife, Esten, and their two daughters.

Early nearly every morning during the June to October nesting season, they're out looking for new turtle tracks, trying to locate freshly made nests.  After consulting with biologists, the volunteers mark the nesting areas and then watch over them until hatching day.  Afterwards, they carefully excavate the vacated nest to count eggshells and free any keiki who couldn't dig their way out.

Getting on with L.I.F.E.
Photo: Bill Korey

Photo: Bill KoreyWhen Walter Kanamu goes hiking alone in the forest, he says he feels his grandfather’s spirit hovering near, sometimes whispering, “Save the forest.”

Kanamu’s grandfather, William Kai‘aokamalie, would be just the type to pass on that message. About 1939, he met visiting botanist-explorer Joseph Rock during Rock’s second trip to Maui, and took him around the island to see what was left of the vanishing dryland forests. Rock, aghast at the destruction, urged the Hawaiian man to do what he could to preserve the remains of forests that had once covered the mountainsides.

When Kai‘aokamalie was a kid, ‘Ulupalakua was all canopied forest. But he lived to see vast areas cut back for family farms, ranches and sugar cane.

What was left was being encroached upon by animals and invasive plants.

Kai‘aokamalie took Rock seriously and started fencing in Auwahi, a forest fragment located on the outskirts of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch.

“I was just a young kid then,” Kanamu says, “but I remember. He took my dad, my uncle and me into the forest”.

Kanamu, a Maui Community Corrections Center employee, says that, in 1996, the old fence was still there, rusty and ready to fall down, when U.S. Geological Survey’s research biologist Art Medeiros was directing a band of volunteers in re-fencing Auwahi. Kanamu and his cousins, Wally English and Ma=healani Kai‘aokamalie worked with them.

“In 1995, my cousins and I established the first Hawaiian nonprofit environmental organization: Living Indigenous Forest Eco-Systems,” Kanamu says. And so began L.I.F.E.

Another cousin, Aiona Kai‘aokamalie, whom Kanamu says was the “inspiration” for setting up L.I.F.E., had already passed away.

Now L.I.F.E. is concentrating on the forests on Hawaiian Homestead Lands located high up on a slope of Haleakala. The organization is headed by the three cousins.

Using $100,000 made available by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for fencing and helicopter time, they’re putting in seven miles of fence, from the area adjacent to Poli Poli and above Kanaio to Manawainui Gulch, in order to keep out cattle, goats, wild pigs and deer.

Lots remains to be done, Kanamu says, but they’re on their way.

To learn how you can help call Walter at 760-8224.

Friends of Keone‘o‘io

Down at La Pérouse Bay, you’re apt to see someone running around, clipboard in hand, talking to people who are out picknicking, kayaking and otherwise enjoying that remote bit of shoreline.

That person is likely to be one of the volunteers of the Friends of
Keone‘o‘io, an organization set up in 1999 to protect that area so rich in archeological treasures.

For four years the volunteers have been stationing themselves at the beach, collecting human use data, handing out brochures encouraging wise stewardship of the area, and doing all they can to cordially educate people about the impact to this endangered area from increased traffic by hikers, kayakers, snorkelers and others.

It’s hot, dusty (unpaid) work, but worthwhile, say the volunteers, now 100 strong. Others agree that the friends are doing good work. The grassroots group has received several grants to fund educational brochures and a Web site.

On most days you’all find one or more of the volunteers at an information table near the beach spreading the word about the historical and environmental richness of the bay. You can find out more about the Friends of Keone‘o‘io by calling 808-870-6957.