Author Archive

Cooling our classrooms

September 21st, 2015

The ads on the radio play over and over again. There's the kid touting Hawaii Common Core Standards, and how they align with college and workforce expectations. Another ad goes on about the "smarter balanced assessments" in math and English language arts to reach our "55 by 25" goal. We just found out how we did on that. But all I can think of, as most parents with kids in public school are probably thinking right now, is, what about the heat?

The heat.

The 90-to 100-degree Fahrenheit heat and humidity brought on by El Nino has set record-setting temperatures in the Hawaiian isles this year. Students, teachers and staff are sweltering in stifling, hot classrooms as they're attempting to teach and learn. There's no relief in sight until the end of the year.

It didn't help that the first day of school was July 29, the height of summer.

Blame it on climate change.

The state DOE actually does. See the letter below.

Factors in building out air conditioning across the public school system


As the state's cooling tradewinds continue to decline and the heat index continues to rise due to climate change, HIDOE is challenged by the need to install air conditioning at all public schools. This involves more than installing AC units — there are budget and infrastructure hurdles to overcome. And we must approach it with an eye to sustainability so we aren't adding to the problem of escalating energy use.

The Hawaii Department of Education began deploying portable air-conditioners this week, but that's only a temporary solution, at best. The overall solution isn't so simple. The department says it will take $1.7 billion to cool the schools. The estimated figure, which seems quite high, includes the cost of upgrading infrastructure and installing central air conditioning in 256 schools in the state.

Portable air-conditioners are definitely not part of a long-term solution (and some say they aren't effective for a large classroom). With the hurdles of higher electricity costs that come with air-conditioning and issues of sustainability, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. Reflective roof coating, increased insulation and better building designs are contributing solutions. But solar technology should have been part of the solution, already.

The state DOE's fact sheet for cooling schools also blames old buildings and infrastructure as part of the challenge, but cites solar technology as part of the solution. Solar-powered ventilators make sense. So does solar photovoltaic air conditioning, which is being tested at a portable at Waianae High School. Kudos to students at Campbell High, who took the matter into their own hands and raised $19,000 for photovoltaic air-conditioning through a crowdfunding campaign called Fahrenheit 73. Another donated system is planned for Kalaheo High School. The department, however, is evaluating whether the high costs of the systems are justified.

In addition to the electrical upgrades needed to install air-conditioning, there are the costs of operating air-conditioning. The power bill at Pohakea Elementary School, for instance, more than doubled when AC was installed, according to the DOE, which currently spends more than $62 million a year on electricity, gas, water and sewage fees a year.

Utilities Overview FY16-17

While Hawaii recently boasted of being one of the states with the highest concentrations of rooftop solar per capita, those solar panels, unfortunately, did not land fast enough on its public school rooftops. To date, approximately 46 schools, or roughly 18 percent of Hawaii's schools, have installed solar PV as a result of Act 96 in 2006. To its credit, the department's Ka Hei program launched in 2004 has a laudable goal — it aims to reduce energy costs through energy efficiency measures while bringing STEM lessons to the classroom. McKinley High School is the latest recipient of a 100 kw solar PV system financed through power purchase agreements.

But this all comes more than a decade too late. Hawaii lags behind other states in this no-brainer decision despite having the best potential out of all the states in the U.S. in terms of sunshine. There was this extensive study conducted by MK Think that cited "solar gain" as "the single most important contributor to interior temperature" in schools. Solar technology could also be the single most important solution to cooling our schools.

>> Hawaii ranks No. 1 in states where schools that could save money by going solar, according to a study by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Yet Hawaii ranks No. 20 in school solar PV capacity, behind Texas, Arizona, New Jersey and California. And we only have one school district, while other states have multiple districts to contend with.


>> While we've set a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2045, why haven't schools been a higher priority? Board of Education Policy 6710 sets a visionary goal of reducing the Department's reliance on fossil fuel-based energy by 90 percent by 2040. Long-term visions and goals are nice, but the reality is our students are suffering TODAY.

>> Schools most in need of air-conditioning should have been chosen for the solar PV projects first. Likewise, schools with solar PV systems should have been among the top candidates for air-conditioning as well as the ones with the hottest temperatures.

>> HECO should fast-track connections for public school solar PV systems.

>> Solar companies can step up and donate systems to schools. I've seen systems donated to non-profits, but let's make our public schools, which have been neglected far too long, a priority.

>> HECO's Sunpower for Schools program (in place since 1996) ended in July of this year, just when public schools were getting started. Under the program, schools received free, photovoltaic solar electric or solar lighting systems. They were small systems, like the 2 kw solar electric system installed at Waianae Intermediate school in December 2006, made possible through a three-way partnership between HECO, the DOE and community (HECO solicited donations to fund the systems). HECO replaced that program with Smart Power for Schools, which installs and demonstrates emerging technologies, such as battery banks for energy storage and management systems for energy monitoring and management tools. That's all well and good, except for the fact that the majority of our schools aren't outfitted with solar PV yet.

>> So far, I haven't heard NextEra, the  $4.3 billion suitor from Florida seeking to acquire HECO, offer any promises or offers of contributions to Hawaii's public schools, specifically, in any way.

Here are some ideas of how schools across the U.S. have been able to integrate solar into their schools, whether to heat or cool their schools, with significant cost savings and a long-term hedge against rising electricity prices. Many were able to enter power purchase agreements with no upfront costs. The Berkeley Unified School District drew up a district-wide solar master plan and with a U.S. Department of Energy grant, even created a template for other school districts. So it's been done before. With the cost savings, some schools are even able to bring back arts and music programs that had been cut from the budget.

>> Solar parking arrays at Analy High School in Sebastopol, CA (Photo: SunPower).


>> Check out this 5,750 KW solar project in Plympton, Mass. that powers Plymouth Public Schools (Photo: Greg M. Cooper/ Borrego Solar).


>> The Scottsdale Unified School District in Scottsdale, Ariz. installed more than 2 MW of solar across four schools sites to lock in years of future energy. (Photo courtesy SolarCity). Wow, now that's a commitment to solar!


Q&A Chipper Wichman

September 18th, 2015


Chipper Wichman. Courtesy photo.

Chipper Wichman. Courtesy photo.

Charles "Chipper" Wichman, president and Chief Executive Officer of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, believed that the IUCN World Conservation Congress could be hosted by the U.S. and more specifically, in Honolulu. Wichman played a leadership role in bringing the Congress here, an effort that started as early as 2009. Wichman currently serves as vice chair of the WCC Hawaii Host Committee's executive committee and vice chair of its program committee.

The Green Leaf had a conversation with Wichman about the upcoming Congress, which marks a milestone because it's the first time it will be held in the U.S. The summit is expected to bring 8,000 to 10,000 leaders (from government, businesses, academia, NGOs and unique indigenous communities) representing 160 nations around the globe to the Hawai‘i Convention Center from Sept. 1 to 10, with possible attendance by President Barack Obama, Prince William and the Prince of Monaco.

Held only once every four years, the Congress, which helps shape the direction of global sustainable development, also presents plenty of opportunities for Hawaii residents to get involved.

The Congress is expected to address topics rangig from climate change (on the heels of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, November to December) to watershed management, conservation of marine resources, renewable energy and endangered species. The theme is "Planet at the Crossroads."

The United States has 84 IUCN Member Organizations, eight of which are in Hawaii (including the NTBG). The U.S. Department of State will need to process quite a lot of visas, and the state of Hawaii's host committee needs to raise $13 million to support the event. Visit for updates.

Green Leaf: Where did the inspiration for bringing the Congress to Hawaii come from?

Wichman: We started talking about it right after the World Congress in Barcelona in 2008. It was actually a couple of colleagues of mine — Chris Dunn, director of Lyon Arboretum at the time, Penny Levin, who is involved in protecting indigenous crops...We thought, the world could learn a lot from visiting Hawaii. It would really put the fantastic work that's going on here on the world stage. Hawaii is a microcosm of all the issues the planet is facing in a very condensed and focused way because we live on islands. And the islands are engines of evolution...We're recognized as one of the world's unique regions. We're also recognized as an endangered species capital of the world...

GL: So this Congress is often described as the Olympics of conservation. Why?

W: The World Congress is an unbelievable event. To call it the Olympics of the conservation world is true. It's the only event that brings together delegates and participants at the cutting edge of conservation — thought leaders from 160 countries around the world...APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which took place in Honolulu in 2011) is made up of 20 leading economies. This is 160 countries, not 20. So it's much bigger and much more diverse...

GL: So you feel Honolulu has a lot to offer the world in possible conservation solutions?

W: We have a lot of challenges here, and those are challenges everyone else in the world is facing. What's compelling is it's brought together indigenous knowledge, practices and pride, and combined with cutting-edge, western science, to create conservation programs that are community-based, which are much more powerful and effective than programs that don't involve indigenous communities. We're really at the cutting edge of those bio-conservation programs that are engaging cultural knowledge and practices and wisdom...

GL: What does Honolulu have to gain from the conference?

W: On the reciprocal side, we will be infused with ideas from people who are at the cutting edge in their part of the world. It's amazing to participate in one of these events — the exchange of ideas, practice, knowledge and connections made. The value of these personal interactions can't be replaced by online webinars. There's nothing that can replace the face to face personal meetings and relationships that take place in a venue like the World Conservation Congress...

One of my dreams (I refer to it as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is that the president of the U.S. and governor of Hawaii will stand up at the stage of the World Congress in front of all these people from around the world, and say, we recognize the importance of the biodiversity that exists in Hawaii. We recognize the importance of Hawaii and our Hawaii culture, and we are committed to creating a biosecurity plan that will protect Hawaii, that's as strong as any other biosecurity plan in the world.

In hosting it, all these people come to Hawaii and have a wonderful Congress, but if we haven't left a legacy behind us, then I feel we've missed the boat. I've been spending a lot of time focused on engaging our community to think about how to use this as an opportunity to create a legacy...I would never have undertaken this opportunity if I did not believe hosting this would not lead to a transformation in Hawaii.

GL: What kind of transformation?

W: I think that the majority of people in Hawaii, although they know the term 'conservation' and may know Hawaii has unique flora, most people in Hawaii don't truly understand the issues that we face. And this is a way of raising the profile of these issues so that the public can really understand it. Ultimately, if the public doesn't understand it, then we will never elect political leaders that have the will to make the right choices, and to put in place the kinds of regulations and laws we need to affect our environment. I see it as transformational in raising public awareness, in terms of engaging the hearts and minds of our students in Hawaii. I would love to see every student in Hawaii, kindergarten to 12th grade, and maybe even at the university level, be aware of this and be touched by it in some way...We're hoping we'll be able to find a philanthropist to say, 'I'm willing to sponsor all the school kids in Hawaii because I think this is so potentially transformative and inspiring'...If you can plant that seed of conservation, that's our future. Our children are our future. So I see the Congress as being potentially transformational, inspiring the next generation of leaders of our state...


BikeShare 4 ways

August 28th, 2015

This bicycle is chainless, and uses a drive shaft instead of a chain to transmit power from the pedals to the wheel. Photos by Nina Wu.

The roads were a tangled mess as a deluge of rain came down, along with thunder, lightning and flooding on the streets late Wednesday afternoon, so it was the perfect time to pull over and check out the options for Bikeshare Hawaii at the Honolulu Design Center parking garage.

Bikeshare Hawaii showcased four bike systems to the public on Wednesday. It was the second open house, following another one on Sunday. An estimated 200 people showed up to both, according to Bikeshare Hawaii president Ben Trevino, where they had the opportunity to rate the bikes on look and comfort, plus vote for a favorite overall. The results will be weighed in during talks with the companies in consideration, he said. A decision is expected in October. I'm really excited about the possibilities!

Here were the four options:

>> Mibici. Manufactured and designed in Canada, the Mibici is extremely durable and well-made for an urban environment. It has a carrier in front, where you can put your purse, and secure it with a bungee cord (which works if your purse is wide or an unusual shape). It has a comfortable seat and rides like a cruiser. The terminal station is sleek, tall and solar-powered, and pretty user-friendly. Swipe your card and you're ready to go. It's in operation in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Mibici, manufactured and designed in Canada. Photos by Nina Wu.

The Mibici, manufactured and designed in Canada. Photos by Nina Wu.

>> Nextbike. This bike system, developed by a German company, is present in more than 30 cities in Germany, as well as the U.S. and United Kingdom, and comes with plenty of options. Rentals can be made via the terminal, an app or pin number (there's a keypad on the bike). Every bike is equipped with an automated, on-board lock and GPS system. It's a comfortable ride, a little more sporty.


>> Decobike. The Decobike system, used in Miami, has been tested and proven in a market similar to Honolulu's, with its humidity, sand and salt environment. The bike features a shaft drive instead of a chain, so you won't have to worry about getting a chain caught in your pants legs. The dock station, also solar-powered, is much larger. You get a plastic, bucket basket attached to the front.

The DecoBike has been proven in the Miami market to withstand salt, sand and humidity.

The DecoBike has been proven in the Miami market to withstand salt, sand and humidity. It's a chainless bike.

>> SoBi. The Social Bike, or SoBi from Brooklyn, New York, is a smartbike with a GPS-enabled lock that works with regular bike racks. You can find and reserve a bicycle from either a web browser of mobile device, or directly from the keypad on the bike. Once you make a reservation, you enter a 4-digit PIN to unlock the bike. SoBi is in operation in Tampa, Fla. and Phoenix, Ariz.

The SoBi is a smart bike which you can reserve via a phone app.

The SoBi is a smart bike which you can reserve via a phone app.

All four bike systems have a few things in common — the bikes weigh 40 to 50 pounds, so they're heavy, with adjustable seats for riders that are tall or short. They offer different gears, but are primarily for flat rides. They're all designed for novice riders.

Bikeshare Hawaii's first phase will roll out across urban Honolulu, with about 2,000 bikes at 200 stations from Waikiki to Chinatown in 2016. The mission is to offer a network of bikes, designed for short trips of one to four miles, as a transportation system without the hassles of storage, maintenance or parking. Also, to get more people to ride bikes!

Bikeshare Hawaii Lori McCarney wearing a fashionable bike helmet next to a dress she wears while biking.

Bikeshare Hawaii Lori McCarney wearing a fashionable bike helmet next to a dress she wears while biking. She tested out all four bikes with a dress and small heels.

World Conservation Congress Hawaii

August 25th, 2015


Several thousand leaders and decision-makers from government, business, academia and indigenous communities are gathering for the IUCN World Conservation Congress at the Hawai‘i Convention Center from Sept. 1 to 10, 2016. The theme of this year's conference, to be held for the first time in Hawaii (and the U.S.), is "Planet at the crossroads."

The Congress is divided into two parts – the Forum, which is open to the wider public, and the Members' Assembly, a global environmental parliament where member organizations discuss and vote on a wide range of issues that guide the IUCN work program and partnership initiatives. A call for contributions went out in June for any interested groups that want to host an event during the conference's Forum.

The Forum is where IUCN Members and partners can discuss cutting edge ideas with people from all over the world. The Congress is seeking hosts for 560 available slots — 135 workshops, 200 Knowledge cafe sessions, 200 poster sessions and 25 training courses. You have until Oct. 15 to submit your proposal. The Congress is only considering hosts that partner with at least one or two IUCN constituents, rather than a single organization, and is looking for events that engage the audience, rather than simply offer a series of "old school" PowerPoint presentations.

There are several options:

>> A Workshop, or 120-minute session that is participant-oriented with a professional facilitator.

>>  A Knowledge Cafe, or hosted roundtable discussion involving up to 12 people.

>> A Poster, which will be displayed during the entire Congress.

>> A Conservation Campus training session, which should be interactive and can involve up to 50 people.

Proposals must meet a number of criteria and be relevant to the theme and draft IUCN Programme for 2017-2020. Here's an outline with most of the information you need. Keep in mind that you'll be competing with organizations from around the globe for one of the slots, so it's pretty competitive. You can apply online.

There's also a link to other entries already submitted, which include a poster on "Protecting and Managing the Magnificent Marianas Trench Marine National Monument" and a workshop on "How to sell a conservation project."

Hawaii, as host for this conference, says Randall Tanaka, executive director of the WCC National Host Committee, has so much to offer in terms of knowledge in the world of conservation, whether it be watershed management issues, species survival or the challenges of sustainable development.

"I think the opportunity for Hawaii is we can provide some very unique solutions to the problems," he said. "It is truly amazing, some of the work that's been done in this state. What we learn from this conference, and what we have to share can become an intellectual export."

Also, if you are interested in hosting an excursion to support the mission of the Hawai‘i Host and Program Committees, visit this Google Docs link.

Lining trash cans

August 19th, 2015

So what do you line your trash can with when there's a plastic bag ban? This is the conversation we've been having since Honolulu's plastic bag ban went into effect July 1, 2015. It seems to be the No. 1 question, with some folks going into panic mode and hopping online to order the exact, same plastic carryout bags. The kind that say "thank you" on them (alright, so you can order a case of 500 for $22.50 plus free shipping which comes out to a little less than 5-cents per bag).

Except that in Honolulu, it's still pretty easy to get a plastic bag.

1. Just get takeout lunch (Honolulu's law does not apply to prepared foods).

2. Go to Wal-Mart or Times Supermarket and check out with a thicker, plastic bag that is still acceptable due to a loophole in Honolulu's law.

The idea is to reduce, then reuse and recycle — to reduce the energy that goes into manufacturing these plastic bags that we take too much for granted, and toss too carelessly. That point seems to get lost in the conversation.

"Our main goal is not to get rid of every single plastic bag, but just to stop the tidal wave of plastic bags flowing out of grocery stores and into our waterways, trees and oceans," said Stuart Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation. "And to persuade big stores like Wal-Mart and Times that they shouldn't try skirting the law by producing thicker, plastic bags that defeat the whole purpose of why we worked so hard for over five years to pass these laws."

It falls on the educated consumer to make the decision. No one's perfect. It may just mean the days of bringing home 15-20 thin, filmy plastic bags with the groceries, including two for the gallon of milk you could have just carried in the cart, are over.

The Green Leaf sought out some suggestions on alternatives. We asked, "What do you line your trash can with, if not with plastic carryout bags from the grocery store?"


1. Consolidate and reuse (Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation).

Personally, I either reuse old, plastic bags as trash liners and just dump the trash into the one big kitchen bag. Or I just don't use them in bathroom and office bins.

Stuart Coleman, manager, Surfrider Foundation, at the fashion show protesting the loophole in Honolulu's law allowing for thicker plastic bags in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku in July. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation, at the fashion show protesting the loophole in Honolulu's law allowing for thicker plastic bags in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku in July. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

2. Feed bags, reused bags. (Kahi Pacarro, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii)

What we use are feed bags from stables, reused bags from the veggie scraps we pick up from our local sandwich shop, and new bags that we buy from the store. By composting and recycling, we have only 2-3 bags of debris per week. For our bathroom cans (the size single use plastic bags are used for) we either don't line them or we use other bags that end up in our household from ordering things online from places like


3. Newspapers

OK, so I've never tried this one, but maybe I will, with the Sunday edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Lindsay, a blogger from Australia, posted this photo of newspaper layered into a wastebasket in April 2013 when the city of Fremantle banned plastic bags. She gives step by step instructions in this blog post and says she rolls the top over for disposal.

Newspaper lined wastebasket from

Newspaper lined wastebasket from

4. Woven basket, no liner

Jen Metz Kane, our trash-free year blogger, says her family only uses liners for her kitchen trash container. For all other household trash: "We just use woven baskets." As for the kitchen bags, she purchases Green Legacy bags online, which are made from green energy and oxo-biodegradable. Let me add that Jen is using reusable, cloth diapers for her baby girl. To carry wet diapers or clothes, there are several "dry/wet bags" on the market. They probably work pretty well for wet swimming suits and towels, too.

This Bumpkins wet bag on Amazon is made of "easy wipe waterproof fabric, stain and odor resistant."

This Bumpkins wet bag on Amazon is made of "easy wipe waterproof fabric, stain and odor resistant."

5. Potato chip bags, milk cartons.

This hilarious video will make you laugh out loud. It suggests using half-gallon milk cartons, potato chip bags and bread bags.

I found the link  from (No More plastic bags in the trash). There really isn't an easy answer.

My answer: Reuse and compost.

What I've found personally, even though I've brought my own bags to the grocery store for years is that you still have plenty of bags that come from somewhere. I have not run out of a supply yet, so just like everyone else, I reuse them. I get them when visitors, like my mother or mother-in-law, bring them into the house. I inherited a box full of plastic bags after helping a friend at her garage sale. I reuse bread bags and newspaper bags. I know some people are using post-consumer recycled paper bags that stores are giving out, too. I like the suggestion of using half-gallon milk cartons.

Nature mill home composters. No mess, no smells.

Nature mill home composters. No mess, no smells.

We DO continue to purchase tall, kitchen trash bags from Costco, which is no different from before. On average, we use one per week. Our plug-in NatureMill composter takes care of a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, leftovers, plus egg shells that normally would go into the kitchen trash, which leaves room to consolidate the trash from the bathroom. I call it the lazy person's composter, since you just open the top lid, put in your scraps, add baking soda and sawdust occasionally. Done. (I highly commend worm and bokashi bucket composters, as well). It's doable.

Reduce, buy in bulk

Natalie McKinney, director of program development at the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, said buying in bulk, reducing waste by recycling and not buying so many single-use items can help reduce the need for multiple trash bags per week.

Plus, if you bring your own bag, you get 5 to 10-cents credit per bag from most retail stores.

Got any other ideas or suggestions? Share them with us.

Here are singer Jack Johnson's Top 10 Plastic-Free tips.

Musician Jack Johnson's Top 10 Plastic Free Ideas.

Saving Haiku Stairs

August 12th, 2015

Haiku Stairs, also known as Stairway to Heaven, is expected to be dismantled by the Hawaii Board of Water Supply. A petition started by Friends of Haiku Stairs seeks to save it. Star-Advertiser file photo.

Haiku Stairs, also known as Stairway to Heaven, is expected to be dismantled by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply. A petition started by Friends of Haiku Stairs seeks to save it. Star-Advertiser 2001 file photo.

It's a darn shame.

We have this unique treasure on Oahu, and saving it is going to be a gargantuan effort, yet the powers that be do not want to make the effort. The Haiku Stairs, better known as "Stairway to Heaven," appear to be headed for dismantlement by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

The Friends of Haiku Stairs recently started a petition asking the Board of Water Supply to save the unique and historic stairs from destruction. There have been other petitions seeking to save the stairs before, including this one petitioning Sen. Mazie Hirono five months ago. That one received 3,438 supporters. This one has the most signatures, so far, with 4,135 supporters as of Wednesday. It just needs another 865 to reach its goal of 5,000.

In May, the Board of Water Supply's directors agreed to spend $500,000 to study how the stairs can be removed following a landslide that damaged a portion of the stairs earlier this year. It expressed interest in transferring ownership of the stairs to another entity. But the National Park Service isn't interested in taking over the stairs. Nor is the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"What we want to do is not to spend that half a million," said Vernon Ansdell, president of Friends of Haiku Stairs. "I think by doing that, they [the Board of Water Supply] are implying that their goal is to remove the stairs. We want to try and convince them, with this petition, there is an enormous amount of support out there to preserve the stairs."

Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who once supported reopening the stairs, believes all options have been exhausted. A working group with all the various stakeholders and agencies was formed last summer. So far, no other government entity has stepped forward, expressing interest in taking over ownership of the stairs.

"I commend this group of people for coming forward and I understand their desire to open the stairs," said Anderson. "I share that desire, provided we can turn the stairs over to a government entity as required by the Board of Water, provided that we can also offer an area with controlled access and managed hiking. Really, I think that time frame has come and gone."

Residents in the neighborhood have been patient with trespassing hikers, he added.

"We need to give relief to the residents," he said. "And we need to do that sooner rather than later."

The stairs, which have been closed for 28 years, feature more than 3,900 stairs stretching about two miles up the Koolaus, which are accessible from the Kaneohe neighborhood. The U.S. Navy built the stairs during World War II as part of a communications network. People have been hiking it illegally. In 2014, the Star-Advertiser reported 135 citations issued for trespassing on Haiku Stairs, along with 100 warnings and six arrests.

Haiku Stairs, better known as the Stairway to Heaven, is officially closed and off limits. Photo courtesy Friends of Haiku Stairs.

Haiku Stairs, better known as the Stairway to Heaven, is officially closed and off limits. Photo courtesy Friends of Haiku Stairs.

The petition, which the Friends plan to present at a board meeting Aug. 24, describes the stairs as "legendary to hikers and climbing enthusiasts from all over the world, offering panoramic views of Oahu and a valuable opportunity to study Hawaiian history, culture, as well as native plant and animal life."

With managed access, and everyone working together to address issues of concern, Ansdell said it is possible to keep the stairs open.

"Many years ago, when the U.S. Coast Guard were in control of the stairs," he said, "people would go up into the valley, park, sign waivers, climb the stairs, come down and drive off again. It worked incredibly well. It didn't go through the neighborhood and interfere with anyone in that neighborhood."

Up to two years ago, the Friends used to go up the stairs to remove invasive species. The group offered to fix the damage that resulted from the landslide, according to Ansdell. But the Board of Water Supply declined the offer.

"We think the damage is very superficial," he said. "We're 100 percent sure it's just damage to the railings. We don't think it would cost that much, and we would raise the funds to do it."

The stairs also provide an unparalleled cultural and historical experience, he said. There are native Hawaiian plants, including rare and endangered species at the summit confirmed by experts from Bishop Museum. He said the stairs, with railings, are also safe as long as people use common sense and do not stray off the steps.

"The views are spectacular," said Ansdell. "When you're on the stairs, the whole valley and ahupua‘a opens up...When you get to the summit, it's almost spiritual."

Clearly, the public is interested in keeping the stairs open. From people who have proposed marriage on the steps to a veteran who used the steps for rehab after recovering from an injury, the petition has struck a chord. It's been signed by people from throughout Hawaii as well as the U.S. and globe.

"I'm very pleased with the response," said Ansdell. "I think if nothing else, it shows that there is support. When you read it, you see the passion people have for the stairs."

Here's a sampling of comments from those who signed the petition:

"Because some cultural wonders must be preserved."

Chris Gray, Kailua, Hawaii

"If Zion can have Angel's Landing, and Yosemite can have Half Dome, Hawaii should have Haiku Stairs!!!"

Greg Parsons of Danvers, Mass.

"As someone who has a strong appreciation for nature and the outdoors, which is an idea that the Hawaiian islands exemplify, I see no good reason to destroy something that was restored to give appreciation to the nature and beauty that the islands have to offer. The risks are inherent, and people have have already said that they're willing to pay for access. But removing the stairs entirely is just an easy way out to a problem that can be solved by people coming together."

Ken McCann of Vail. Colo.

"It's part of our history in Hawaii. It's  better to have it open, regulated, with warnings than closed, unregulated, and o warnings about the danger that you are going into."

Gernell Yamada, Honolulu

With enough public will, maybe we could save these stairs for future generations to come. The petition urges the Board of Water Supply to work with stakeholders to create a managed access plan, solve illegal hiking problems and save the stairs.

If you are interested in once again hiking the stairs, sign the petition. To learn more about Friends of Haiku Stairs, visit their Facebook page.

Photo courtesy Friends of Haiku Stairs.

Photo courtesy Friends of Haiku Stairs.

Don't flush those wipes

August 10th, 2015

Wipes and what appears to be a piece of a knitted item, cleared from Lualualei wastewater pumping system. Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Services.

Wipes and what appears to be a piece of a knitted item, cleared from Lualualei wastewater pumping system. Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Services.

Don't flush those wipes.

So yes, it does say "flushable wipes" on the package. Cottonelle says it. So does Charmin and Huggies. The thing is that you can flush it down your toilet at home without clogging up your plumbing, but from a larger picture perspective, it's going to cause problems in Honolulu's sewer system. Consumer Reports conducted a study to see if flushable wipes are flushable. After 10 minutes in a blender, the wipes did not break down.

And even though you may think, so what? That doesn't affect me. It does. It all comes back around, in some form or other. Especially on an island. If it costs the city  more to clear up the clogged pumps, it'll eventually cost you more. If it ends up flowing over into the ocean, well, guess what you get to swim with next time you're out there?

So don't flush those wipes.

Warning: The following picture is not pretty.

The crew at Lualualei Wastewater Pump Station recently extracted an amalgam of paper towels, flushable wipes and rags from one of the pumps to make sure it doesn't mess up the machines. It's a weekly chore at the Lualualei pump station. At the West Beach pump station near Ko Olina, the crew goes more than four times a week.

Mix of "flushable" wipes, paper towels and rags that crews collected from the Lualualei wastewater pump station.Photo courtesy Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.

Mix of "flushable" wipes, paper towels and rags that crews collected from the Lualualei wastewater pump station. Photo courtesy Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.

Honolulu is not the only city that deals with it, although the problem is getting worse here, according to environmental services director Lori Kahikina. The department recently launched a radio campaign, telling the public not to flush those wipes.

In March, the New York Times ran a huge story on how the wipes were costing millions of dollars in equipment damage in New York City's sewer system. Hawaii had the honor of being named as a state plagued with the problem, along with with Alaska and California.

"The city is not alone. Wet wipes, which do not disintegrate the way traditional toilet paper does, have plagued Hawaii and AlaskaWisconsin and California. Sewer systems have been stuffed in Portland, Ore., and Portland, Me. Semantic debates have visited Charleston, W.Va., challenging the latitude of “flushability.” “I agree that they’re flushable,” said Tim Haapala, operations manager for the Charleston Sanitary Board. “A golf ball is flushable, but it’s not a good idea.”

New York Times 

So, whatever your personal lifestyle, just  know not to flush those wipes.

By the way, other items that you shouldn't flush down the toilet include: disposable diapers, napkins, paper towels and dental floss. I did not know about the dental floss. Hair is not a good thing to flush down the toilet, either.

Conservation Hilo

August 6th, 2015

Opening day ceremony at the Hawai‘i Conservation Conference in Hilo. Photos courtesy Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance.

Opening day ceremony at the Hawai‘i Conservation Conference in Hilo. Photos courtesy Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance.

Aloha Hilo!

The 23rd annual Hawai‘i Conservation Conference kicked off on Monday, with a move to Hilo this year. More than 1,200 people attended from across the isles as well as the U.S. mainland. The conference theme this year was "Hanohano Hawai‘i Kuauli: Celebrating Collaboration and Wisdom Across Hawai‘i's Ecosystems." It concludes on Thursday.

I think the move to Hilo was a great idea this year. After all, Hilo is home to the Merrie Monarch Festival as well as some of the most beautiful, precious lands and habitats for native plants and birds.

Topics covered at the conference range from a general session on birds and bats to the albizia invasion across Hawaii's physical, political and economic landscapes. There was also a session called "Connecting Culture and Science," moderated by Sam Ohu Gon.

Panoramic of the audience listening to keynote speaker Pua Kanahele on opening day. Photos courtesy Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance.

Panoramic of the audience listening to keynote speaker Pua Kanahele on opening day. Photos courtesy Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance.


>> The conference opened with a Kipaepae Ka Mauli Kuauli, its official opening ceremony on Monday evening. Kipaepae is translated as "stepping-stones for entering a house." Aunty Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele was the opening keynote speaker.

>> Conference attendees participated in various huaka‘i, including an excursion to one of Hawaii's largest, remaining dry forest on the slopes of Mauna Kea.  The forest is home to the critically endangered palila bird. Conservationists are working to restore the forest through collaborative partnerships.

>> A special, day-long exhibition on Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument on Wednesday. Keynote speaker in the morning was Kamana Beamer.

>> As usual, the conference offered a Community Connections Day on Wednesday, which is open and free to the community. There were live performances by Paula Fuga and Kainani Kahaunaele, along with poster presentations, a special talk story with the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Kaimana Barcarse. Chefs Mark "Gooch" Noguchi and Top Chef finalist Sheldon Simeon also offered a collaboration dinner, along with Aloha Monday's, Moon + Turtle and Sweet Cane Cafe.

>> An IUCN workshop was held Thursday morning. The IUCN World Conservation Congress, themed "Planet at the Crossroads" is scheduled for Oahu Sept. 1 to 10, 2016. Keynote speakers were Sen. Brian Schatz (via video) and Suzanne Case, chair of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The Hawaii Conservation Conference started Monday and concluded Thursday in Hilo. Photo courtesy Hawaii Conservation Alliance.

The Hawaii Conservation Conference started Monday and concluded Thursday in Hilo. Photo courtesy Hawaii Conservation Alliance.

Anti-plastic fashion show

July 23rd, 2015

Demonstrators from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation demonstrated against the thicker plastic bags that Wal-Mart is handing out at noon Thursday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

Volunteers from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation demonstrated against the thicker plastic bags that Wal-Mart is handing out with a fashion show at noon Thursday. Photos by Cindy Ellen Russell.

More than a dozen demonstrators staged a plastic bag protest in front of Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street at noon today. Donning self-made creations constructed from thick, plastic bags (the ones they were protesting), the demonstrators from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation put on an impromptu, sidewalk fashion show.

The purpose was to raise awareness over the harm that stores like Wal-Mart create when handing out a thicker version of plastic bags to customers at checkout which, they say, defies the spirit of the plastic bag ban that went into effect on Oahu July 1.

"What we're trying to do is shine a light on the fact that a lot of our local retailers are still skirting the law when it comes to the plastic bag ban," said Sustainable Coastlines director Kahi Pacarro, donning a plastic bag tie.

The Honolulu version of the law contains a loophole which allows retailers to give customers reusable bags, which is defined as a "bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse." It can be made of cloth or other washable fabric or a "durable material suitable for reuse," which includes plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick.

Wal-Mart is not the only one handing out the thicker plastic bags, which angered Anna Sabino and prompted her to start a petition earlier this month. Longs Drugs, Times Supermarket, City Mill, Don Quijote, Tamura's, Thinker Toys and Chevron are culprits, too. However, Wal-Mart actually goes so far as to write the word "Sustainable" on its thicker, plastic bags, which is greenwashing at its finest.

While twirling and marching down the sidewalk, the demonstrators, which included kids dressed in plastic bag frocks, women in frilly, plastic skirts and a fully-decked-out plastic bag monster man, held signs to educate consumers about the harm that plastic bags cause.

They also handed out free, reusable canvas bags — part of a Bag A New Friend campaign that Sustainable Coastlines is running. Here's how it works: When you go shopping, bring an extra bag or bags to give to others that may have forgotten theirs or others that don't have any. Post it to social media with #BagANewFriend.

Demonstrators were also giving out their ideal, reusable bags in front of Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street on Thursday, part of Sustainable Coastline Hawaii's #BagANewFriend campaign.

Demonstrators were also giving out reusable bags in front of Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street on Thursday, part of Sustainable Coastline Hawaii's #BagANewFriend campaign.

The protestors' signs said:

>> "10 percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean." — United Nations Environment Programme.

>> "The average American family takes home 1,500 plastic bags a year." — Natural Resources Defense Council.

>> "About 2 million plastic  bags are used every minute around the world." — Earth Policy Institute

While the thicker version of these plastic bags are available, they do as much harm to the environment as the thinner versions. They end up littering beaches and waterways, entering the ocean ecosystem and take even longer to break down. They may be reused a few more times than the thinner version, but are generally used only once.

Of the four isles (Kauai, Maui, Oahu and Hawaii island), only Oahu offers this loophole. Oahu's plastic bag ban also allows for compostable bags, even though there is no commercial composting facility on the isle.

The whole idea is really to reduce the amount of plastic.

The "plastic bag monster" participated in a demonstration fashion show in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku on Thursday.

The "plastic bag monster" participated in a demonstration in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku on Thursday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

The message of the demonstration was lost on Rose Pristow of Honolulu, who was sitting nearby. When she shops Wal-Mart, she takes the plastic bag for her purchases, which she had tucked into a reusable bag from Whole Foods Market. She takes the plastic bags to line her garbage cans at home, and does not see an issue with littering as long as she makes sure they go into the trash can.

"I'm for the environment, but I didn't understand what was going on," she said.

She was surprised to learn that some of the plastic bags end up at the beach.

Another shopper, Susan (declined to give last name), said she's been bringing her own bags since the ban went into place. On Thursday, she ended up buying more than she initially planned at Wal-Mart, so she used a few cardboard boxes to corral her purchases in the shopping cart, Costco-style. She keeps a bag full of other reusable bags ready in her car.

The majority of shoppers exiting Wal-Mart appear to take the thicker, plastic bags for their purchases, which are free, although a reusable bag is also available by the checkout stand for 50-cents. Many other retail stores, such as Safeway, are using paper bags while offering reusable bags for sale. Foodland offers customers who bring their own bags 5-cents credit per bag or Hawaiian Airlines miles. Some retailers, like Ross, will begin charging a fee for paper bags with handles, starting August.

Related video:

Pearl and Hermes

July 6th, 2015

Hermes and Pearl resting by the pool pen at Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital in Kona. Hermes and Pearl were rescued as preweaned pups at Pearl and Hermes atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.

Hawaiian monk seal pups Hermes and Pearl resting by the pool pen at Ke Kai Ola, a hospital run by The Marine Mammal Center in Kona. Hermes and Pearl were rescued as pre-weaned pups at Pearl and Hermes atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.

Happy monk seal Monday.

Here's an update on Pearl and Hermes — two prematurely weaned Hawaiian monk seal pups that NOAA researchers picked up from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, or Papahanaumokuakea, aboard the Hi‘ialakai in early June.  The pair, one female and one male, are being rehabbed at Ke Kai Ola in Kona and doing well.

The seals, named Hermes and Pearl after the atoll where they were found, graduated from fish smoothies to eating whole fish last week. The shift to eating fish (thawed-out herring) is a significant step since it eliminates the need for tube feeding.

"Pearl is starting to put on weight," said operations manager Deb Wickham. "Hermes is not putting on as much, but he's basically stable."

Pearl weighs about 35 kilograms, and Hermes weighs about 36 kilograms.

When the monk seal pups first arrived, they were under a month old, with black coats. Their coats are now turning into a silvery sheen. Besides herring, Pearl and Hermes are also enjoying "fishstickles" this summer. They sleep a lot during the day, according to Wickham, but are also playful. They're up early in the morning, and at night.

"When they first arrived, they were suckling on each other," said Wickham. "They play together. They are very bonded."

Pearl, a Hawaiian monk seal pup rescued from Pearl atoll, peeks out from her pen at Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital in Kona where she is being rehabilitated. When she gains enough weight, she will be transported and released back home. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.

Pearl, a Hawaiian monk seal pup rescued from Pearl atoll, peeks out from her pen at Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital in Kona where she's being rehabilitated. When she gains enough weight, she'll be released back home. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.

The pups are expected to stay at Ke Kai Ola, a Hawaiian monk seal hospital built at a cost of $3.2 million by The Marine Mammal Center in Marin, Calif. until about September. Two other monk seal pups, Pua and Mele, were rehabilitated and plumped up at the hospital for six months last year, then transported back to Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with help from the U.S. Coast Guard. They were rescued last September as severely malnourished pups.

Wickham actually got a chance to observe them in the wild on this last 21-day voyage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard NOAA's Hi‘ialakai.

"They're doing really well, doing great," said Wickham, who added that seeing Pua and Mele healthy at home was the best reward.

Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered, with a population of fewer than 1,100 remaining in the wild, according to NOAA. They are protected by both state and federal laws, and should be left in peace if resting on a shoreline. A growing number, between 150 to 200, are appearing on main Hawaiian isle shorelines like Maui, Kauai and Oahu. Volunteers from the Monk Seal Foundation help keep watch over them, as well as maintain a safe distance between the wild seals and humans.

Ke Kai Ola, a brand-new facility at NELHA, offers specialized pens and pools for the rehabilitation of Hawaiian monk seals, plus a fish kitchen, lab and office. The hospital welcomes help from volunteers in the community who want to help with its mission of helping save the critically endangered monk seals. Visit to learn more.

Hermes at Ke Kai Ola in Kona. Hermes just began eating whole fish and is on his way to recovery. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.

Hermes at Ke Kai Ola in Kona. Hermes just began eating whole fish and is on his way to recovery. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.

Related Video:
Pua and Mele being released at Kure Atoll (By The Marine Mammal Center)