IUCN Spotlight: Samuel ‘Ohu Gon III
A Hawaiian chanter, senior scientist and cultural advisor for The Nature Conservancy, Samuel M. ‘Ohukani‘ohi‘a Gon III bridges the western and native Hawaiian worlds.
Gon, who has more than 40 years of experience in Hawaiian ecology, is hosting a workshop at the IUCN World Conservation Congress Forum on integrating indigenous cultural values and perspectives into conservation on Sept. 3. He will be at the opening of the #NatureForAll pavilion and moderate a presentation on bright spots in conservation across the isles.
Gon helped craft motion 83, with students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Environmental Law Program, which affirms the role of indigenous cultures in global conservation efforts.
"If you were going to think about any place where conservation issues are a high priority, and conservation challenges felt very strongly, it would be Hawaii," said Gon. "We have more endangered species than any other state in the U.S. We've got finite island ecosystems."
"The lessons of these islands to earth is the same as a canoe to an island. When you're on a voyaging canoe thousands of miles to an island, your entire world is on the canoe. You need to rely on the people in that canoe and the resources you have to survive. Decisions are never made lightly. You're always thinking about supplies, the direction and your goals."
"We know we have limited land area, so you can't behave as if you have an infinite supply of resources...so that same lesson applies to larger islands such as continents, and of course, to the largest island we have, which is the planet."
The practitioner of Hawaiian chant and protocol graduated from revered kumu John Keolamaka‘ainana Lake as well as with a PhD in animal behavior from the University of California at Davis, and is as comfortable talking natural science as he is Hawaiian. He lectures about the Natural History of Hawaiian Islands at the University of Hawaii at Manoa In addition, he knows Hawaii's mountains and forests intimately.
Whether in the Pacific islands or forests of the Amazon, indigenous peoples who have a relationship with the places where they live offer valuable insights into the management of natural resources.
"The time is emerging when all people need to start looking at their places, lands and water, and sustain them with a bit more respect," said Gon. "It becomes clearer to us that human impacts are being seen from pole to pole and there's no place on Earth that hasn't seen the impact of humanity...It's no longer, let nature take its course because we have modified the course nature has run."
Still, people need to be part of the solution because people are part of the natural system.
"The great revelations of this century are going to be the awareness of the global implications of our actions. We need to take action as individual countries and as a global country to minimize those things we understand are not in the best interest of the world's ecosystems or ourselves."
In addition to serving on the IUCN's commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, Gon also was a member of the Hawaii Rare Plant Specialist Group that worked to add more than 700 more native species to the IUCN Red List. There are so many Hawaiian plants and animals that are in need of attention, but one that Gon would love to see added to the red list is the Hawaiian Happy Face Spider.
In mid-August, Gon joined the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Snail Extinction Prevention Program in reintroducing captive-reared, nearly extinct Hawaiian tree snails (Achatinella Lila, or pūpū kuahiwi) back to the summit of the Ko‘olau mountains on Oahu. In 1997, the last six individuals for the snail population were brought to a lab for captive rearing.