History of Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund

Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund has roots on both Maui and the Big Island (Hawaiʻi Island), although its work now extends statewide and into the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Marine National Monument.

Founded in 1996 by two former National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) scientists, Bill Gilmartin and Hannah Bernard, the organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of Hawaiʻi’s native wildlife through research and education. Gilmartin and Bernard, both award-winning marine biologists and conservationists, are also members of government-appointed advisory boards dealing with Hawaiʻi marine and terrestrial issues. These boards and committees include: Society for Marine Mammalogy, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team, Pacific Scientific Review Group, Hawaiʻi Longline False Killer Whale Take Reduction Team and the Hawaiʻi County Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission

The critically endangered status of the Hawaiian monk seal initially drew the two together to form HWF to support NMFS in this species’ recovery. HWF initiated Hawaiian monk seal watches (responded to haul out events to provide protection for seals and education for the public) and marine mammal strandings responses, now official NOAA programs, which the HWF Team still assists with. Partnerships are crucial in Hawaiian conservation!

HWF has focused on recovery actions for the endangered Hawaiian hawksbill sea turtle in Hawaiʻi including nest protection and identifying foraging habitat and prey species. In 2000 HWF began similar conservation efforts, led by marine biologist Cheryl King, with the threatened Hawaiian green sea turtle by protecting nests, researching basking behavior, documenting fibropapillomatosis, and rescuing hooked/entangled turtles.

HWF has led marine debris recovery efforts from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, to Maui and the Ka’u (Ka Lae) area of Hawaiʻi Island since 1998, pulling over 174 tons of marine debris from beaches and reefs. Marine biologist Megan Lamson has directed the Ka’u area efforts together with Bill Gilmartin since joining HWF in 2008.

On that same shoreline, HWF is working with the State of Hawaiʻi to manage the recovery and protection of native plants and anchialine pools in a recently designated coastal forest reserve.

HWF worked hard for the Maui and now statewide plastic bag ban which, along with the HI-5 recycling refund, has noticeably reduced the amount of discarded trash littering Hawai‘i. HWF has testified at innumerable public meetings and hearings, and will continue to stand up for the environment.

A champion of community-based seashore ecosystem management since 2003, HWF co-founded the Makai Watch program, and continues to assist in its implementation through the statewide steering committee. HWF’s More Fish in The Sea events gathered key leaders and community members to build strategies for making this concept a reality.

HWF’s newest (since 2010) educational program brings Maui’s youth into Maui’s rain forests (Uncle Oliver and Auntie Valerie Dukelow’s remote and “off the grid” farm that includes lo‘i and fish farming) to learn about sustainable practices and Hawaiian cultural values.

Since 1996, HWF has supported outreach education on marine life conservation through naturalist training programs, student projects and internships. HWF’s projects are community-based and powered by volunteerism, and we want to deeply thank all of our supporters who have helped us be so efficient and successful for nearly 20 years.

“Ho‘okuleana” means “to take responsibility,” as in helping protect our Hawaiian resources, which is everyone’s responsibility. There are multiple ways of getting involved, so please join us!

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