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Kupu Unveils “The ʻŌhiʻa, the Story of Hawaiʻi’s Tree” on Hawaiian Airlines

Starting this month through July, Hawaiian Airlines will air a special short film, “The ʻŌhiʻa, the Story of Hawaiʻi’s Tree,” as part of its Hawaiian Skies domestic in-flight programming. In partnership with Kupu, Hawai‘i’s leading conservation and youth education organization, USDA Forest Service and Hālau ʻŌhiʻa – Hawaiʻi Stewardship Training program on Hawai‘i Island, the video highlights the cultural and ecological significance of ʻōhiʻa and the impact of Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death (ROD).

ʻŌhiʻa are the most abundant native tree species throughout the state of Hawaiʻi and hold significant biological, cultural and economic value. (Photo by JB Friday)

“This video project presented an opportunity not only to address a major conservation issue, but also share the important work that is being done by our partners, program participants and the community on Hawai‘i Island,” said John Leong, Kupu CEO. “We need to continue to work together to increase awareness about these types of issues, while empowering the next generation of environmental stewards and leaders who will continue to protect our environment and develop more resilient and sustainable communities in Hawai‘i.”

The short film features scientists, conservationists, kumu hula, dancers and families of Hawai‘i Island’s community, who are bound by their aloha for and commitment to ʻōhiʻa. Each share personal stories about ʻōhiʻa and the vital role this tree plays in the environment, Hawaiian culture and community. Featured speakers include: USDA Forest Service Research Ecologists Christian Giardina and Flint Hughes, and Natural Resource Specialist Kainana Francisco; USDA Agricultural Research Service Plant Pathologist Lisa Keith; Hālau ‘Ōhiʻa – Hawaiʻi Stewardship Training Founder and Trainer Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani; Kupu Interns Ardena Saarinen and Kawehi Lopez, and Program Coordinator Malia Heimuli; and Lahela Camara and her daughter Hāwelelani.

“As a destination carrier, we strive to provide our guests with warm hospitality and unique in-flight offerings,” said Renee Awana, senior manager of product development at Hawaiian Airlines. “As part of that, we also understand the importance of educating visitors about our pristine and fragile island habitat. Together with Kupu, we believe this film will shine a light on an important issue that all travelers should be aware of.”

Five species of ʻōhiʻa are endemic to Hawai‘i, one of which, Metrosideros polymorpha, is the most abundant native species in Hawai‘i, making up 80 percent of native forests. As one of the first plants to colonize an area after a lava flow, ʻōhiʻa trees are instrumental in developing soil and forming new ecosystems. They dominate old soil and most everything in between, providing critical habitats for countless native species throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Not only is ʻōhiʻa considered one of the most ecologically significant plants in Hawai‘i, it is deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture through moʻolelo (stories), mele (song), ʻoli (chant) and hula (dance).

“ʻŌhiʻa is as old as the volcanic islands,” said Kekuhi Kealiʻikanakaʻoleohaililani of Hālau ʻŌhiʻa. “When we talk about their significance, we may talk about objects of the culture. But, what we need to begin talking about seriously, is if the ʻōhiʻa were not here, what about our lifeway might change.”

Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death (ROD) is a disease caused by the fungus Ceratocystis Fimbriata. Since it was discovered in 2014, ROD has wiped out ʻōhiʻa trees across 50,000 acres on Hawai‘i Island, at an average loss of 10 percent per year.

“It’s impossible for me to imagine a Hawaiʻi without ʻōhiʻa,” said Kainana Francisco of the USDA Forest Service. “Losing ʻōhiʻa would have devastating ripple effects on our forest landscapes and watersheds, the health of our islands and our communities, and Hawaiʻi culture and lifeways. So it’s important for everyone, Hawai‘i stewardship agencies and organizations, our communities, and even our visitors to our islands, to continue to work together to prevent the disease from spreading, and protect Hawai‘i’s precious natural resources and unique ecosystems.”

While the disease is currently isolated to Hawai‘i Island, it has the potential to spread to other islands and affect ʻōhiʻa and the health of ecosystems statewide. Simple ways that anyone can prevent the spread of ROD include:

  • Not moving any parts of the ʻōhiʻa plant;
  • Not transporting ʻōhiʻa interisland per the State Department of Agriculture’s quarantine rule preventing ROD from reaching other islands;
  • Avoid wounding or pruning ʻōhiʻa plants, which make them vulnerable to the fungus;
  • Decontaminate gear and tools (including shoes and clothes) before and after entering forests; and
  • Wash tires and undercarriages of vehicles when traveling off-road and to any areas affected by ROD.

For more information about ʻōhiʻa, ROD,and other updates on the work that needs to be done about ROD, visit www.rapidohiadeath.org.

“I prefer not to say Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death,” added Kealiʻikanakaʻoleohaililani. “That’s not what we want. What we want is Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Health. Without them, there is no life in the Hawaiʻi Islands.”