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A Changing Climate

This year’s 25th annual Molokai Earth Day celebration brought focus to an important theme: climate change. Dozens of local, state and federal organizations shared with residents how changing temperatures, rising sea levels and other global effects are impacting life on Molokai and what we can do.

“This Earth Day, we hope that you have found out that there are many things we can do about climate change,” said one of the event organizers, Penny Martin. “And so we recognize this group that was created to especially look at this very important issue.”

This year’s Malama Kuleana Honua award — presented annually to someone in the community who contributes significantly to Molokai’s environmental conservation — was a group, the Molokai Climate Change Network. This handful of residents arose from an effort to bring scientific awareness and education to Molokai, and the award was received by Kauwila Hanchett on behalf of the group.

“Their mission is to be a network for community engagement, outreach and education about climate change,” said Martin.

Among the many presenters at Mitchell Pauole Center last Friday night, Nancy McPherson with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands said homesteaders living along the south shore have seen the direct effects of climate change and rising sea levels in recent years.

“We’re already seeing the affect to shoreline lots,” she said. “A number of lot pins [boundary markers] are in the water now.”

She said no erosion rate for Molokai’s south shore has yet been established, and DHHL will be hiring a consultant to assess this rate and give recommendations of what can be done to address it.

Erika Stein Espaniola, Superintendent of the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, talked about the ways in which the park is utilizing a CARE model, with C standing for carbon, A for adaptive infrastructure, R for restoration and E for education. For example, staff are working to reduce their carbon footprint through recycling and composting efforts, looking at the ways they can protect historic buildings from the increased risk for fire posed by climate change, and restoring the native ecosystem through planting native species and implementing ungulate control.

Molokai’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office through the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered a powerful demonstration of how vegetation can help control erosion and soil run-off. By pouring water over two soil samples — one covered with healthy, growing plants and the other bare soil — Kawaila Purdy explained that the water remains clean when passing through the soil with vegetation, while it’s muddy and brown after trickling through bare soil.

“Vegetation is important because it helps purify the aquifer and attract beneficial inspects,” Purdy explained of a healthy soil cycle.

Wallace Jennings of NRSC said the organization can provide plants to help prevent erosion, as well as connect homesteaders and farmers with federal funding to assist them.

Pu`u O Hoku Ranch on Molokai’s east end is doing its part to contribute to a healthier planet by implementing solar panels for energy, with word turbines in the works as well, said farm assistant Matthew Schneider. The farm’s certified organic produce is also irrigated by water collected from a nearby river.

Staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center were on hand to educate residents on hurricane and tsunami safety. Nathan Becker said tsunami waves can travel at speeds of 500 miles per hour in deep water, but slow down and gain force in shallow water like reef areas. He explained that the area between Molokai, Lanai and Maui has an impact on tsunami behavior.

“Shallow areas like this slow down [tsunami waves] so we have longer to react,” he said. But he added that the waves patterns formed between the islands also cause the effects of a tsunami wave to last a longer period of time.

Dozens of other organizations also shared information with interested residents, fostering an evening of awareness and education, along with entertainment, food, games and free native plants.

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