Towards A Greener Future

Molokai High students celebrate Arbor Day.

By Catherine Cluett

While some might say that high school students aren’t motivated, MEPO students are busy proving them wrong. Over a dozen members of Molokai Environmental Preservation Organization (MEPO), a student group at Molokai High School, gathered last Thursday to plant a variety of native species at the Kalaupapa trail head.

With busy shovels and beaming faces, students planted a whopping hundred plants in under half an hour. Hala pepe, a small tree with long leaves, and a wikiwiki, a climbing legume, are just a couple of the native species students helped propagate.

Membership in the student organization is voluntary, but it now attracts over two dozen students a year, says Dan Bennett, the first advisor to the club in its infancy in 1992. “Kids love to feel accomplished, and there’s no better way to get that feeling than doing hands-on activities,” he says.

There is no volunteer requirement at Molokai High, but it’s a great thing for students to put on their resumes, says current MEPO advisor Robert Bento, a ceramics teacher at the school.

“There are three climate zones along the Kalaupapa trail,” explains Bill Garnett, an employee of University of Hawaii who oversees the planting of rare and endangered plants in Kalawao County as well as along the steep pali trail. He says he works closely with such organizations as the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service in his effort. Because Garnett uses plants grown from nurseries near sea level in Kalaupapa as well as topside Molokai, the plants are already acclimated to their specific climate zone.

“We plant during the rainy season,” he explains, “and cross our fingers it rains soon.” If it doesn’t rain a minimum of one inch per week, Garnett waters each plant 16 ounces per week until nature takes over or the plants are well enough established to survive on their own.

In addition to supervising the growing of the plants, Garnett is the volunteer coordinator for the project. Volunteers meet the last weekend of every month to do what they can to promote native species around Molokai.

For the MEPO students involved in the project, it’s a great way to get outside and do their part for the environment. It’s also an opportunity for them to experience places of historic, cultural, and environmental value they might not otherwise get to see. The group also plans a yearly volunteer trip off-island.

“We get to see places like Kalaupapa and Ko`olawe!” explains one excited MEPO student. For these kids, getting their hands dirty and their shoes caked with mule mud is more than just another day’s work.

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