Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Outreach Specialist John Kahiapo was busy teaching young fishers at Laupāhoehoe Point Beach Park on Hawaiʻi Island about pono practices and the importance of conservation when he was completely caught off-guard. Fellow DLNR officers and his ʻohana presented him with an exemplary award. The department chose Kahiapo, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo alumnus, as its recipient of this year’s DLNR Citizen Conservationist Award, which recognizes people in the community who go above and beyond to protect natural and cultural resources.
“I can’t tell you how much we’ve relied on John to back up our regular officers,” said Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Chief Jason Redulla. “He is always responsive and most importantly he is an outstanding example of a public servant. It would be easy for him to clock-out after a day of work at his regular job, but John keeps sharing his wealth of knowledge with people of all ages and has devoted thousands of hours of his own time in his role as a reserve DOCARE officer.”
DLNR First Deputy Robert Masuda presented Kahiapo with the award, which recognized his 30 years of volunteerism and community outreach.
“I’ve known John and have admired his dedication, passion and selflessness for many years,” Masuda said. “Both his professional work and volunteerism have made him a role model for countless students and community members, who have had the pleasure of working with him and learning from him. Education, outreach and enforcement are wrapped into one for John—a great example of doing what you love and loving what you do.”
Kahiapo earned a degree in biology from UH Hilo in 1989, and at the same time began working as a small boat harbor agent in East Hawaiʻi. In 1992, he began his first stint as a volunteer DOCARE officer and six years later became a full-time officer. In 2001, he went back to reserve duty to begin full-time work at the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources.
Five of his fellow officers and his family were on hand for the presentation. “This all brings me joy, happiness and pride,” said Kahiapo.
A life of protecting natural and cultural resources
By night, on weekends and on many holidays, Kahiapo switches roles from his volunteer work, puts on his officer uniform and backs up regular officers who patrol the vast expanses of Hawaiʻi Island. His regular job and volunteer position share a lot in common. Both are focused on protecting what makes Hawaiʻi and its natural and cultural resources precious and unique.
Kahiapo, who grew up in the Waimānalo Hawaiian Homestead on Oʻahu, was grounded in local traditions and customs from the time he was born. He learned to catch and prepare fish from his father. After graduating from Saint Louis School in 1974, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Kahiapo’s first duty station was at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which according to his daughter Shola Kahiapo-Trevino, “…set the tone for his career path by teaching him to pursue activities that bring him joy.”