KALAOA — For Zach Laird and Jonathan Reagan, students at Jesuit Dallas, a school in Texas, taking an active role in an environment thousands of miles from home is, they hope, something that can inspire others to contribute as well.
“I just feel like there’s really small parts of this world,” said Laird, 17. “And I feel like what we can do with everything that we learn, everything that we’ve done here so far — if we can create the catalyst for a domino effect, if we can clean up one small portion, then more people will start cleaning up and then it spreads and spreads. And if we can get everybody involved in the same stuff that we’re doing, that’d be fantastic.”
Reagan, meanwhile, said he’s “all for preservation,” saying their efforts to clean up a stretch of Ka‘elehuluhulu Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park Saturday is not just a way to set a positive example for others, “but also to show that it’s very easy for someone to come out here and help make a difference.”
The students, in Kona as part of a marine biology education program, were among dozens of volunteers Saturday to take part in Sand Castles for Conservation, which also involved an effort to restore anchialine pools in the area after the 2011 tsunami dumped sand and sediment into the pools. The event was sponsored by the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks.
The cleanups and anchialine pool restoration efforts have been ongoing for about a year now, said Dena Sedar, interpretive specialist with Hawaii State Parks, and with every bucket of sand removed, the pools get that much closer to the way they were before the tsunami.
“It’s slow work,” Sedar said, “but we are making a difference.”
Sedar said she’s had people approach her who remember the pools from when they were younger, recalling the healthy populations of ‘opae ‘ula, native Hawaiian red shrimp that make their home in the brackish pools.
But over the years, guppies released into the pools have hit the populations hard, and while Sedar said the shrimp haven’t returned to the larger pool that was the focus of Saturday’s effort, stewardship efforts have been successful in ridding a smaller pool of guppies and ‘opae ‘ula have been spotted there.
This effort, Sedar said, offers “a way for people to help restore it to what they remember it as before the tsunami.”
And nature is also taking notice.
In May, Sedar saw a Hawaiian stilt — a shore bird that uses the pools as foraging habitat — in the anchialine pool being restored. It was the first stilt she’d seen, she added, in her three and a half years with State Parks.
“So it means that we are making progress,” she said. “It’s now attractive enough that — it was just one — but he’s coming and he’s foraging.”
And this month’s workday came with a twist: with all this sand coming out of the pools, why not build sandcastles?
Throughout the morning, sand was hauled out by the bucketload from the anchialine pool and piled up in mounds in the forms of sea life, castles and, in one case, the shape and topography of Hawaii Island. Castles were judged based on artistry, creativity and size — and participants could only use sand that was removed from the anchialine pool.
Megan Lamson, board president and Hawaii Island program director for the Hawaii Wildlife Fund emphasized the obligation everyone — resident and visitors alike — has to care for and restore the natural environment in Hawaii.
“This is a state park,” she said. “It’s all of our responsibility to take care of it, whether you’re here as a visitor just for like a weekend or you live here, especially.”