About me

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I am a PhD Candidate in the Limu lab at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Botany Department. The limu lab focuses on the ecology and physiology of marine plants, especially our tropical flora here in Hawaiʻi. My research interests span the fields of ecology, hydrogeology, botany, and conservation.

Growing up in the wonderful and diverse environment of the island of Hawaiʻi drove me to a passion for the natural world, ecology, and culture. Hawaiʻi Island contains eight of the thirteen climate zones found worldwide, so the diversity of natural ecosystems you experience living and visiting there is truly remarkable.

Hawaiʻi island is also home to a wealth of Hawaiian history and culture, including the birth place of King Kamehameha I and King Kamehameha III, the most extensive and productive areas of agricultural development by ancient Hawaiians, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau (place of refuge), and Kilauea volcano, the famous active volcano and home to madam Pele, the goddess of fire. A respect for culture, ancient knowledge, and land use practices is instilled in the keiki, or children, of Hawaiʻi, myself included. Reverence for the ancient civilization that once managed our lands has us looking to the past to plan for the future. How did ancient Hawaiians manage these lands to maximize productivity while mitigating impacts on the natural ecosystem? How did they manage their agriculture, fisheries, forests, and coastal ecosystems? While we cannot go backwards in time, we can learn from the past and the present to plan for a better future. This knowledge, in combination with  modern scientific advances, is invaluable in protecting these valuable ecosystems for future generations.

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Looking out at the Honokohau Harbor, in Kailua Kona. Photo by Elizabeth Sides.

My hometown, Kailua Kona, is known as one of the most locally managed fishing communities within the Hawaiian islands. The Department of Land and Natural Resources has worked closely with the local fishing community to establish numerous protected areas where fishing is not allowed, in order to promote established fish stocks to grow within and around these protected areas. Kona is proud to work together to protect and manage our local ecosystems. However, both development and population growth are rapidly increasing on the Kona coast. The community is already facing challenges in resource management, infrastructure, and waste management; these challenges are only likely to increase with continued population growth. As this development occurs the community must come together to ensure proper planning for Kona’s future.

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Searching for fish on a shipwreck dive off Waikiki, ʻOahu. Photo by Elizabeth Sides.

In stark contrast to where I spent my childhood, the island of ʻOahu, where I have spent most of my career, is heavily developed. ʻOahu hosts the majority of the population of the Hawaiian islands, our largest city, and a wealth of anthropogenic impacts on our local ecosystems. ʻOahu is, however, the cultural center of the islands, known as “the meeting place” since ancient times, this island is also home to some of the most political and some of the richest cultural history in the Hawaiian islands. Here on ʻOahu I was introduced to what invasive species, over-fishing, and pollution really mean for coastal ecosystems. The contrast that you experience when you jump in the ocean on ʻOahu includes low coral cover, low numbers of fish and other marine animals, turbid, cloudy, or murky waters, and the proliferation of harmful algal blooms.

Life has led me to experience the beauty and abundance of the coral reefs of Hawaiʻi island, along with the management challenges and environmental degradation that have occurred with development of ʻOahu island. Thus, my personal journey leads me to this: what can be done to protect those ecosystems that have not already been impacted? What can we do to return impacted ecosystems to a healthy state? How can we respect the culture of the past and prepare for a better future? Perhaps most importantly, what about our culture today needs to change in order to promote proper management and harmony with our environment and our resources?

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My favorite place to be is on the bottom of the sea, surrounded by healthy coral, in my hometown of Kailua Kona. Photo by Elizabeth Sides.

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