By Rich Figel
Who doesn't love field trips?
I felt like an excited kid when Rob Reynolds and I got to film a high school science class at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) research facilities on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay. It took three months to set up the shoot with Malia Rivera, who oversees the high school outreach program. First, we needed to get approval from the University of Hawaii, since HIMB is part of that system. Then we had to get Kamehameha High School's consent, along with signed release forms from parents to film the students for an upcoming Career Changers TV episode. But it was well worth the wait. I'll have more to say about the experience next month when we air that segment. Here's a few quick notes I jotted down that I don't want to forget...
Unexpected Hollywood connections: You probably know Coconut Island was in the opening credits of the 60s sitcom, Gilligan's Island. You might also be aware scenes from Lost were filmed there too. But I bet you didn't know one of the HIMB staff was in the Waterworld movie. I was chatting with Fritz, the skipper of the boat that transported us to the island, and he said he was part of the trimaran crew in that big budget Kevin Costner bomb, which was filmed off the coast of the Big Island.
It came up because I mentioned I had written a sci-fi screenplay about genetically-engineered super crabs that take over the Big Island, which got some interest from the Waterworld producers a few years ago. Turns out that two of the HIMB researchers we interviewed specialize in genetic studies. However, they did not think my scenario of GM seafood making food of humans was very plausible. I guess they don't watch the Syfy Channel, which regularly shows movies such as Mansquito and Sharktopus.
Moku O Lo‘e is Coconut Island's real name. Malia grew up on the Windward side, and now has a PhD that brings her full circle to the bay she loved as a child. But she frowns whenever the Gilligan's Island references come up, mainly because there's so much more to its history and place in Hawaiian culture. (Click here for more on that.)
Malia told us it was Princess Pauahi who had the coconut trees planted in honor of Queen Emma, and there are over 370 of those trees on the 28-acre island. In fact, the coconuts are now a hazard and she had us walk on certain paths to avoid being conked on the head by falling fruit -- or are they actually nuts?
Sea life studied spans the gamut: Everything from invasive algae (they're experimenting with urchins that feed on gorilla ogo) to tiny snapping shrimp, dolphins (sound experiments related to the sonar controversy) and sharks -- not just hammerheads, but sand sharks, reef sharks and tiger sharks that we saw swimming around in enclosed pens.
Cool dolphin story: Staff saw dolphins outside the pen and thought some of the research animals had escaped. They were actually wild bottlenose dolphins. Malia doesn't know if it was a coincidence, or if the dolphins were somehow attracted to the pregnant dolphin inside the pen that gave birth two days later.
Budget cutbacks impact field trips: The HIMB outreach program to get more kids interested in the marine sciences has been a big success, reaching thousands of students from the fifth grade up to high school seniors. Some we interviewed want to pursue studies in that field as a career path. Others come to appreciate and respect our environment more when they get this kind of hands-on experience by performing simple experiments under the HIMB staff's guidance.
But last year, due to furloughs and No Child Left Behind requirements, many students were left behind in classrooms and not able to take part in this program. That's too bad, because what we saw were students who were engaged and learning in ways you don't see in a standard classroom setting. Cutting back on things like field trips may save a few bucks, but it kills dreams and aspirations for children who could grow up to be scientists and researchers like Malia Rivera.
Keep the motor cooler thing name ideas coming! That segment and new features on the Pacific Gateway Center kitchen incubator for start-up food businesses are airing daily on OC16. Visit our website for viewing times or check out the CCTV YouTube Channel for video segments. Have a great weekend!