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Aloha ‘Aina: for the love of the land

Kelsey Orr

Lush tropical greenery, beautiful beaches and waterfalls, spectacular sunsets.

While she spent part of her summer sailing through Hawaii, Kelsey Orr ’17 wasn’t on a leisure trip. Her 12-hour days as a student and rookie sailor were often spent cleaning, line hauling, and collecting water samples aboard a 134-foot-long sailing ship for her team’s research project.

Orr, a political science and Asian studies major from Winston-Salem, N.C., was one of 18 undergraduate students from across the country who spent over a month exploring Hawaii as part of a summer semester program offered by the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., and Hawaii Pacific University.

The program, “Aloha ‘Aina: People and Nature in the Hawaiian Islands,” focused on the Hawaiian peoples’ deep respect, understanding and love for the land. The hands-on program partnered students with community leaders, ocean resource managers, and coastal stakeholders as they work together toward the goal of preserving marine environments. The program paired traditional Hawaiian values and practices with contemporary science and ecosystem management, according to the SEA.

Orr began her trip on the campus of Hawaii Pacific University, where she and other students were tasked with reviewing the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s draft management plan.  The sanctuary was created by Congress in 1992 to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaii.

Orr’s assignment focused on the island of Lana’i and a proposal to create a windmill farm to generate energy for the island of Maui. She reviewed comments submitted by community members during public forums and talked to residents personally about their opinions and concerns to assist in generating a public policy statement for the sanctuary. Their findings were shared with environmental lawyers and sanctuary administrators.

“It’s amazing that we were able to come up with something that could actually be used and have an impact,” Orr said.

Her adventure continued aboard the Sailing School Vessel (SSV) Robert C. Seamans for 10 days of travel throughout the Hawaiian archipelago. She received an introduction to the basics of oceanography and was trained on technology in the ship’s laboratories.

She learned the basics of steering, adjusting the sails and navigating the ship the old-fashioned way, plotting points on a map, using the stars and mathematical calculations.

“I had to hit the ground running and jump right in,” she said.

With many of their field trips on the islands, Orr also enjoyed service projects, such as catching and counting mullet fish and tending to oysters getting ready to be harvested on the island of Moloka’i. And of course, they saved time to visit some of the islands’ beautiful beaches.

“It’s not just a vacation destination in my mind anymore,” Orr said. “I’m happy that I was able to meet such a variety of people, because I now have a much better understanding of the culture. I definitely did not get the traditional tourist view of Hawaii.”

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