story by Julia Steele
photo by Monte Costa
Mention the word “Cousteau” and people still think instantly of the sea. Today Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society continues the French explorer’s efforts to educate people about the intricacy and wonder of the ocean; for the last decade, it has teamed with various partners around the world—in the Mediterranean, French Polynesia, Brazil and elsewhere—to run environmental awareness programs. Now the society has come to Hawai‘i.
On a recent evening its education director, Richard Murphy, stood in a new state-of-the-art “green” center at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua,talking about the principles that guide nature—among them that biodiversity is important and that everything is connected. Murphy has spent four decades traveling the world with the Cousteaus, and he knows a thing or two about biodiversity and connectedness. At the Ritz he has teamed with protégés Ashley Carroll and Iokepa Nae‘ole to develop an Ambassadors of the Environment program through which people—children and adults alike—can learn about the complexity and sophistication of Hawai‘i’s ecosystems. Out in the wild, participants hike in the watershed, snorkel on the reef and study plant and animal behaviors. Back at the center, they paint, draw and hear lectures, all to immerse them further in the natural world. Just outside the center they can explore a massive walkable map of Hawai‘i (once an old tennis court) which shows the Islands’ traditional ahupua‘a, or land divisions.
Carroll is an expert in ocean science, and Nae‘ole is deeply knowledgeable about the native forest; both clearly relish the opportunity to be in nature teaching others. “This is a kopiko,” Nae‘ole says as he takes people through the forest above Kapalua and points out a rare, black-trunked endemic tree. He introduces the native plants ‘akia, u‘ulei, puapuamoa and others, explaining their biology and uses. He smiles as he holds up a leaf or points out a complex spider web. Like his colleagues, he says, he believes that good things will come from getting people onto the land and into the sea. “People don’t want to be preached to, and this is not school,” adds Murphy, “but we have a phenomenal opportunity here to teach people.” HH