Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

Two of the greatest things about my job are the strange, quirky creatures I meet (not talking about just animals here) and the fantastic places I visit. This time I headed to a floating blob in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, for the 2016 World Conservation Congress.

Major postcode envy. 

Hawai’i is as multicultural as its coral reefs are technicoloured and its words have syllables. Spectacular sunrises and sunsets, hip-swaying ukulele tunes, crazy hula, and genuine aloha spirit! My first instincts were to build a sand castle, buy a guitar and put down some roots.

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Ala Moana beach, a local favourite, is a peaceful oasis compared with nearby Waikiki whose cup runneth over with tourists © Nisha D’Souza

Making conservation history. 

The first few days of Congress involved humans dressed as various faunal, floral and agricultural enterprises. This was followed by a few days of leaders reaching decisions on critical issues and then wildly oscillating.

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Jane Godall is fluent in English, chimp and beaver apparently © Maegan Gindi

I was part of the communications team. Of course, great works of literature are tributes to the heroic ability of their makers to sit in one place for hours, days, weeks, months on end. In those few weeks, our bums suffered greatly for the noble cause of biodiversity conservation.

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Upholding communication of international standard and fame © Nisha D’Souza

Occasionally, I struggle to square images of cheery penguins with reports of extinction and the upcoming apocalypse. This post could easily be filled with internal contemplation and moralistic ramblings. But, I have only three things to say:

  1. At least we have our health. If we can ignore the fact that most of the contents of our toilets go into the ocean. Where our shrimp, crab and fish foods live.
  2. In the ocean of Science, the truth is harder to grasp than a slippery live fish.
  3. Organic granola bars are the most disappointing thing on the planet.
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Conserving the high seas – a remarkably more effective means of recording discussions © Nisha D’Souza

During Congress I met some beautiful, intelligent nerds. All mad as chairs. Amongst them Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle and E.O Wilson. I fought hard not to  adopt them as my grandparents and ask them to move into my sandcastle.

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Anote Tong (ex-President of Kiribati) and Sylvia Earle at the high-level dialogue on ocean protection © Nisha D’Souza

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Actress, Alison Sudol, interviewing Jane © Nisha D’Souza

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Jack Johnson dropped by to sing for conservation © Maegan Gindi

Stretching muscles of the gluteus maximus. 

I was confined to the island by time, funds and huge expanses of saltwater. So I made the most of it by sitting in the ocean, standing on a mountain, and distressing my digestive system. The extremness of this may have adversely impacted my life expectancy but the advantage was it limited conversation, which at that time invariably gravitated towards the upcoming election, a funless vampiric topic.

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Rabbit Island (or Manana) off the south coast of Oahu, where ostracised bunnies found temporary refugee in the 70’s. They were eventually forced to abandon the island which was found to be unfavorable to carrot growth © Nisha D’Souza

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The volcanic nature of the Hawaiian islands makes for stunning (mostly endemic) biodiversity within and outside of the water. This is Hanauma Bay – the first nature preserve in the US. It’s home to the State fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (the reef trigger fish). I nearly lost myself in a school of mullet here (almost 60 of them!) © Nisha D’Souza

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Punch Bowl crater! Hawaiians have a deep connection with nature, explained through stories of divine beings. Kane, the Father of all living things, is highly revered. Pele, the Goddess of fire, lightening and wind, created the Hawaiian Islands © Nisha D’Souza

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Mokolii or China Man’s Hat. As the story goes, an old Chinese plantation worker escaped into the ocean. He now stands on the seabed assisting passing whales and other marine critters. Only his hat is visible on the surface of the water © Nisha D’Souza

© Megan Nage IUSFWS CC BY 2.0

This grumpy chap is a Hawaiian Monk Seal, 1 of only 2 mammals found in Hawai’i (the other is a bat) © Megan Nage IUSFWS CC BY 2.0

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The mighty pineapple once supported the Hawaiian economy. Before that it was the whaling industry and sugarcane. Nowadays it’s tourism © Nisha D’Souza

I also happened upon a darker side of Hawai’i during my travels. One filled with myths and legends of loyalty and betrayal, birth and death, love and war. To end this post (and perhaps inspire your nightmares), here are two stories:

  • The Huaka’ipo or Night Marchers are ancient Hawai’ian warriors eternally cursed to march throughout the islands to wreak vengeance on the unworthy (I imagine they resemble a cursed Captain Barbossa and his pirate crew by moonlight)
  • I climbed up to Nuuanu Pali view point somewhere in the vicinity of the crypt keepers’ neighbourhood. This was where King Kamehameha I forced thousands of his enemies to jump to their deaths during the battle for the unification of the Hawaiian Islands in 1795. An eerie place with fog robbing all sight and the wind whistling strangely, it is said that you can still hear the men screaming as they crack their skulls on the rocks below.
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Hawai’i is the only place I’ve been where you can be standing at sea level and within hours have climbed to 4,200 ft through crazy rainforest © Nisha D’Souza

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The Koolau mountain range is an extinct shield volcano © Nisha D’Souza

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Byodo-In is a beautiful Buddhist temple which commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii © Nisha D’Souza

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This is the other end of the number-plate black hole © Nisha D’Souza

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