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Ten University of Hawaiʻi students have been selected to receive $1,000 each through a new award program aimed at completing a project to conserve the living resources of the ocean. The Ocean Conservation Awards are funded by a donation from the Global High Seas Marine Preserve organization, and administered by the UH Foundation. The student practitioners were chosen by faculty mentors for the 2021–22 academic year.

“The Ocean Conservation Award program is a wonderful way to recognize, support and mentor students who wish to make a positive difference for our oceans,” said program manager Mark Hixon, the Hsiao Endowed Professor of Marine Biology in the School of Life Sciences at UH Mānoa.

Danny Quintana, Global High Seas Marine Preserve president and founder, is motivated by the need for immediate action to save the seas. “We will succeed. Failure is not an option,” he said.

The faculty mentors, who are all experts on ocean conservation issues, will guide the development and implementation of student projects during the academic year. Student awardees range from first-year undergraduates to post-baccalaureate students in multiple disciplines, focusing on a variety of projects:

  • Kanoʻeaunainoa Awo (Hawaiian Studies, UH Mānoa; mentored by Assistant Professor Noelani Puniwai): “Kiaʻi Kai–kuleana for Hawaiʻi’s oceans”
  • Helena Bakutis-Kekaula (Hawaiian Studies, UH Mānoa; mentored by Assistant Professor Puniwai): “Kiaʻi Kai–kuleana of visitors to Hawaiʻi’s shorelines for conserving our ocean”
  • Joel Burgess (Environmental Law, UH Mānoa; mentored by Professor Denise Antolini): “Reducing marine plastics–legal solutions to a wicked problem”
  • Kalā Diaz (Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian Language, UH Mānoa; mentored by Assistant Specialist Kawika Winter): “He Aliʻi ke Kai–developing a pilot ocean conservation education program for a youth paddling club”
  • Sydney Lewandowski (Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM), UH Mānoa; mentored by Faculty Instructor Mahealani Kaneshiro): “The art of preventing the marine plastic problem”
  • Tehani Louis-Perkins (Environmental Law; UH Mānoa mentored by Professor Antolini): “Protecting marine limu–a proposal for Puaʻena Limu Management Area”
  • Kara Murphy (Marine Science, UH Hilo; mentored by Marine Option Program Chair and Marine Science Instructor Lisa Parr): “Translating the marine impact of the non-compostability of plastics to improve community awareness”
  • Caterina Maria “Micat” Po (NREM, UH Mānoa; mentored by Faculty Instructor Kaneshiro): “Conserving overlooked marine fishes and invertebrates through graphic design”
  • Cecelia Rudo (Marine Science, UH Hilo; mentored by Marine Option Program Chair and Marine Science Instructor Parr): “Expanding community-based coral reef health training in east Hawaiʻi using Eyes of the Reef methodology”
  • Ronja Steinbach (Marine Biology, UH Mānoa; mentored by Associate Professor Anthony Amend): “Identifying marine fungi with potential for plastic degradation”

“To save our imperiled oceans we need more than just marine biologists to be engaged,” Winter said. “Empowering our youth and our communities will catalyze the change we desperately need. This program aims to do just that.”

Kaneshiro added, “It is an extreme honor for NREM students to participate in the first annual UH Ocean Conservation Awards! Their projects will showcase their dedication to marine life conservation and give them an opportunity to use their science communication skills beyond books. They are also looking forward to sharing their science with communities here at home, on the web and social media!”

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