TMT -Thirty Meter Telescope

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This is a letter of humble activism.  I send my love to those warriors on the mauna, around the mauna, and miles from the mauna, yesterday, today, and in the days ahead.  Even if the organization throws this away when they receive it in the mail, I will know that my thoughts are shared in other ways. E ola nā wahi pana!

To whom it may concern,

I deeply appreciate your attention to this letter, and the favorable consideration that was taken for it to be here in your hands at this moment.  Thank you very much.

Aloha nō, from the land known as paradise to many, including myself, a tropical haven for flora and fauna of all sorts and sizes, a seafarerʻs destination, a house to one of the wettest places on Earth, a living mass with snow on its highest point and spilling lava just miles away, an ancestral lineage, a small place, home to people with big hearts.

My name is Amber Au.  I was born in Mānana, raised in Moanalua and Nuʻuanu, and now reside in Papakōlea, on the island of Oʻahu.  I am a granddaughter, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, coach, student, and of all these identities the most important to me is the last.  Being a student has brought me to the completion of my junior year in college at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, focusing in Tropical Plant and Soil Science with Hawaiian Language.  While pondering on earning my BS very soon, I have been thinking about these years of being a student.

You and I may agree that being a student simply means being a learner.  In this case, we have truly been learning for much longer than since our initial enrollment in a Western institution, and have been students all our lives.  I am certain that you, a nonprofit organization working in the field of celestial science and exploration, both feel and understand this humble position as a learner, as a student. I need to say ʻfeelʻ because the precious night sky is just that; the wonders of the universe around us undoubtedly draws emotion, and it takes a mere glance upward on a starry night to do so.  Furthermore, learning about these things that emotionally draw us toward itself, expounds our passion to continue to learn.

Having said all this, I would like to say that as a fellow student and fellow learner, I completely understand your desire to continue your studying.  However, I would like to express possibly a new perspective of learning, from the past.

On a chilly December night when I look up and, amidst the light pollution from chaotic Honolulu, can see the rising formation of Ke Kā o Makaliʻi in the east, I need no instrument to satisfy my awe or to know that those stars are in fact there.  To see it any clearer, bigger, or brighter, would confirm my ancestral connection to it no more than my eyes alone already have.  You may now realize where this letter is beginning to go, but I ask you to please read on…

When ancient Hawaiians lived here in Hawaiki (Hawaiʻi), the coastal-dwelling people knew that there were at least two sorts of fish: carnivorous and herbivorous.  Of course, they did not know the Western terms for either, but what did it matter? English, Latin, and Greek, were nonexistent to them; they were masters of their own language, methodology, and culture. Their society innately had its own standards of intellect.  This is not to say that we were ignorant, no, in fact our monarchs traveled thousands of miles over seas to network with people around the world.  But, if learning is traditionally by observation, no matter the area of study, who are we to belittle those of indigenous people? Whose standards do we conform to? How do we allow one to overbear the other if all knowledge is valid and sacred to the individual? And when is it appropriate to dismiss that of the native people in their native land?

Here is an observation that no telescope can capture: There is something that my generation and those arising, are missing.  We allow ourselves to be students of our schools but have lost the humility to be students of our environment.  We learn in order to achieve paper awards, to give us an edge for a job, to make as much money as possible.  We are obsessed with American freedom which induces us to rather not associate ourselves with any form of religion, so we are unaware of the spirituality that should come with our learning.  We no longer know the stories of our great-grandparents, and therefore do not know parts of ourselves that we will spend a lifetime searching for.  We look into the night sky and see the celestial beings, but do not feel them.  If your 18-story telescope is certainly in the name of learning, I humbly ask you to think thoroughly about the education that our youth truly need…

The learners who have stopped your ceremony atop Mauna a Wākea, blockaded your construction team from executing your blueprint plans, created artwork in honor of the mountain, come together to stand for the protection of sacred land and aloha ʻāina, and continue to sing songs to ease our pain for the desecration of our ancestors, are indeed my brothers and sisters.  And I would like to affirm any thoughts of us crazy-radical-Hawaiians; we are mixed-ethnicities and cultures, and if this is what an active community looks like, then we are proudly both crazy and radical, just as you are for the galaxies. I cannot let another ʻeducational toolʻ be built upon that majestic mountain…not when what is to be learned, cannot be achieved by it.  Your mission is beautiful, but your methodology is not.  I firmly believe that there is an alternative way to seek out what you are searching for, and I am very willing to help in that troubleshooting if such an opportunity is given.

Mahalo piha for your time. Please feel free to contact me at your leisure.

“If I have courage, it is because I have faith in the teachings of my ancestors.” -Mau Piailug

Sincerely,

Amber M.L.W. Au

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Moku nui eā !

Four days will never be a sufficient amount of time to spend on my second favorite island in this incredible archipelago, but it was a perfect amount of time to participate in yet another orientation.  The program that Iʻve been privileged to be a part of, PIPES (Pacific Internships in Programs Exploring Science), required all forty of us interns to attend this orientation held at the Kīlauea Military Camp in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, over the past few days.  Image

No offense to the wonderful people at Kualoa Ranch, but this orientation blew them out of the water by miles.

Our main reason for being at Volcano was to conduct mini projects that were based upon finding correlations between native and non-native birds in the park and another variable.  The project goes in deep details, but thatʻs the general idea of what our mission was, to give ourselves a taste of the applied science we will encounter at our respective intern-sites.  In the picture above, my team and I are laying out transects in our survey method, that incorporated tree height into our hypotheses.

Every single person, I learned only hours into our first encountering, is doing a different internship in a different place, in and outside of Hawaiʻi.  A man will be surveying and maintaining watersheds in Kohala, while a woman will be studying ʻopae ʻula (small red freshwater shrimps) in twelve streams on the big island, looking at the ecological effect they have.  A man will be creating sustainability plans and executing ecological action plans in Hāʻena (Kauaʻi), while a woman and man head to American Sāmoa to do their own internships… The list is not endless, but the opportunities I and my fellow interns have, are very much so.  And the places that we have been matched with, Iʻm sure will be heavily impacted with only positive outcomes by our kakoʻo (help).

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Each individual is unique, some are vegans and some grew up in poverty in Waiʻanae, but they all have the same similarity: they LOVE science.

I was never good at math, throughout grade school and high school, and science only interested me to the extent of going outside of the classroom once in a while for labs; Iʻve never seen people this ecstatic about such a tedious, headache-inducing, field of study.  However, theyʻve got me hooked.  I know my career and my interests are going to be outside in the natural environment, and these guys proved to me that thereʻs no way around science, and itʻs not as scary as I used to think so.

The coolest part of this program thus far: everyone is older than me.  People nearly began to call me the “baby” of the group, as I am around three to five years younger than 95% of the interns who attended.  I donʻt mind the nickname at all.  Itʻs extremely humbling to be in their presence, some of whom have already graduated and are literally beginning careers in their fields of passion… watching them so far, has been a blessing.  I feel really small and inexperienced, and itʻs challenging to adapt to the scientific lingo and the expectations embedded in that, but the challenge feels good, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes.

My next step is Monday, June 3rd, 2013.  First day of work.  First day of loving science.  First day of new self-expectations.  First day of the rest of my life, one could say.  And Iʻm excited.  No laila…mahalo ke akua no kēia manawa kūpono a nā mea ā pau.  Image

Summer doesnʻt mean no homework…

First of all, my orientation days are done and Iʻve been awarded uniform shirts and a fancy magnetic name tag. 🙂Image

& now to homework…

My internship program required me to write a 2-3 page “personal internship development plan” that addresses what I will be doing at my intern site, some history behind it, and objectives Iʻve set for myself while working there.  Be kind,… I havenʻt been in school for the last few weeks and the last English course I took was a semester ago. Haha. 

 

“Personal Internship Development Plan”

Kualoa Ranch Hawaiʻi Inc., at the surface, has become a well known tourist attraction. However the company’s mission to be stewards of the land by education and celebration of its history and culture, brings together a true concept of ahupua’a.

Though not found in each, a loko i’a kuapā was a prominent feature often constructed at the bottom of an ancient Hawaiian ahupua’a. This simple yet genius system begins at the meeting of a stream mouth and the shore where fresh water mixes with salt water, creating a brackish water, attractive to certain herbivorous fish and organisms like “the ʻamaʻama (striped mullet, Mugil cephalus)” (7, Sato & Lee). A carefully designed rock wall (kuapā), sometimes stretching miles in circumference, makes home for many of these organisms in a brackish water sanctuary. Indeed, a fishpond is a sanctuary due to its mākāhā.

Mākāhā, or gate fixtures, are built into the rock wall on the outskirts of the pond, closest to the ocean. Small voids in the gate allow for only small fish or “pua” and critters to enter, thus serving as protection from larger predators (6, Sato & Lee). The young organisms, including common delicacies like ” āholehole (Hawaiian flagtail, Kuhlia sandvicensis), moi (Polydactylus sexfilis), awa (milkfish, Chanos chanos)” and ʻōio, happily enjoy the nutrient rich mix of fresh water that comes down from the mountains, and soon get too big to swim back out of the mākāhā (11-15, Sato & Lee).

This is where Hawaiians are so intelligent: Knowing which fish would not be able to escape, pond-keepers would open the inner gate, let the fish swim to the outer gate, close the inner gate, then with an ʻupena (net), scoop their meal caught in the median (ʻauwai).

Pond-keepers, like other professionals in the Hawaiian culture, were keen observers, hard-workers and natural scientists. Modeling the footsteps of an ancient Hawaiian is a man named George Uyemura, the keeper of Mōliʻi fishpond, the loko iʻa kuapā now privately owned by Kualoa Ranch Hawaiʻi Inc. where I will be interning.

“Uncle George”, as he naturally became known as, was born in 1920 as the son of first generation Japanese immigrants (31, Sato & Lee). Coming from a fishing family, his father obtained a lease for Mōliʻi pond and when Uncle was eight years old, him and his family moved from Waikīkī to Hakipuʻu. A rough transition from city to country and convenience to no electricity or running water, did not break him. He quickly learned the tricks and trade of the pond and became very skilled in his profession, with the help of his family and teachers (32-37, Sato & Lee).

Uncle George is ninety-five years old today, and still works hard. A lot of hard work, in fact, is essential in the upkeep of this 128-acre pond that has been in full working existence for over 600 years (49, Sato & Lee). In result of invasive species and other variables culminated over time, labor and maintenance today not only includes the tasks that Uncle did as a little boy, but also need to incorporate studies that will help preserve the ponds function, which is to feed the community. Such studies that I will be a kokua (help) in this summer, include: “maintaining a daily log of weather conditions and rainfall, as well as a weekly log of dissolved oxygen and salinity data, establishing and maintaining a 100×100 foot of (invasive) jellyfish removal, researching and reporting invasive jellyfish with emphasis on reproductive cycles and control methods, conducting daily observations of juvenile and adult marine species in designated areas, identifying and quantifying native and non-native algae species, establishing and maintaining a 100×100 foot of invasive algae removal, researching and reporting on invasive algae with emphasis on identification of native species and control methods for non-native species, observing and measuring floating algae mats and researching possible related conditions to occurrence and duration, establishing and maintaining predator elimination area, observing and quantifying juvenile marine species in and out of predator elimination area, conducting an informal water current analysis in relation to tidal changes, and mapping depth and bottom strata of the north pond” (Kui McCarthy).

Though overwhelming at first, I realize the list of duties are all interconnected and with the help of aunty Kui, I am committed to accomplishing the tasks written out for me. These scientific tasks are contributing not only to this specific loko iʻaʻs well-being, but hopefully to the others in Hawaiʻi and beyond. The research and maintenance will also, in essence, play a part in this eraʻs environmental movement to healthier ecosystems, from mirco-climates to global warming; my small contribution will hopefully better the entire communityʻs efforts, keeping in mind that a healthy ocean is a key factor in a healthy planet.

Regardless of the fact that a lot of what I will be doing, is what I really want to learn anyway, Iʻd like to specifically learn and apply why native species are important to their native areas, and what evidence, if any, do we have today that might imply that native Hawaiians were aware of invasive species (if so, what solutions did they have, and how can we use both their methods and science today, to better control our invasive species in Hawaiian waters).  Such a detailed objective, I assume will take years of dedicated research to accomplish, however there are three things Iʻve committed to doing in my internship that I hope will create a foundation for me to work from in years to come. These three things are what Iʻve stated earlier, that Uncle George Uyemura models as…

I will be a keen observer. Science, as much as it is about math and data, begins with observation and I am committing myself to each day at work, being a better observer than the day before.

I will be a hard worker. The hours I put in will not only be physical, but I am also dedicating myself to working hard mentally, using common and uncommon safety knowledge in whatever Iʻm doing, to protect myself as well as my co- workers.

And last but not least, I will be a natural scientist. Science alone was not my strongest subject in school, but applying it in my job will definitely be good practice for future courses and even a future career. I know that my ancestors were brilliant scientists, and therefore I am holding myself to putting my best effort in being so as well. 

Along side my three objectives, I will also be constantly working on my personal character. I tend to be quiet and reserved when around others, and I know that there are certain times when I do need to open myself and have confidence in speaking and presenting.  I hope I become paʻa to my objectives as well as add more during my summer at Mōliʻi, and Iʻm very grateful for this opportunity to experience applied science field-work.

 

Works Cited 

Sato, Vernon, and Cheng-Sheng Lee. Keeper of Mōliʻi Pond: An Informal Account of George Uyemura and His Amazing Hawaiian Fishpond. Waimānalo, HI: Oceanic Institute, 2007. Print.

 

 

Aloha & God Bless