2017 cohort of Environmental Biology for Pacific Islanders program

A cohort of 12 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island undergraduate students arrived at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in May to participate in a summer research internship called Environmental Biology for Pacific Islanders, hosted by UH Mānoa’s Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC). The opportunity, funded for three years by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, seeks to increase the number of Pacific Islanders pursuing bachelors and advanced degrees by recruiting and training promising students in modern approaches to environmental biology.

Students from the islands of Hawaiʻi, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands, and the U.S. Compact-of-Free-Association Micronesian states (Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands) are assigned to laboratories across the UH Mānoa campus for 10 weeks in the summer.

Within the broad theme of environmental biology, research areas include field ecological studies on healthy marine ecosystems, as well as those that are badly damaged by invasive alien species and pollution; studies of coastal and mountain biology, with emphases on microbial, invertebrate, vertebrate and plant communities; biodiversity investigations using classical and genetic approaches; and research focused on species endemic to the island.

“Our expectation is that the students trained with the support of this program will contribute significantly to conserving and restoring native species and habitats in their home islands through hands-on activities in governmental or private agencies and training new generations of islanders,” said Michael Hadfield, co-director of the summer program and professor emeritus at PBRC in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

For 16 years, Hadfield led similar NSF-funded programs which focused on environmental biology and the biological sciences. He has seen first-hand the success of these engaging programs and has high hopes for the impact the program will make this year.

“Our focus on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders is aimed at increasing scientific training specifically for students who will return to their home islands to participate in actions and decision making aimed at employing modern scientific methods for problem solving,” he said. “These islands are already feeling the impacts of climate change, especially rising sea levels, and their peoples must be better prepared to cope.”

—By Marcie Grabowski