Tourists in a moving metal box, cameras and boogie boards in hand. They’re ready to snorkel around America’s best beach 2016: Hanauma Bay. The fish there are spectacular and unafraid; bus people look uncomfortable. Whispers in Japanese, and German conversations around the intern in between. Getting dropped off means walking towards our office along the highway, while the bus speeds towards scenic vacations.
The Conservation International Hawaii office feels natural now, with rugged pallets separating desks along the main room’s generous windows. Its ceiling is the standard pockmarked panels but the cherry wood floor and central tables add balance. I sit at that island most days, doing research on recreational fishing license systems and connecting with lively, interesting colleagues. I’m learning so much about local issues and noncommercial fishing: the intersection of indigenous rights and new system implementation, the federal push towards state management, the challenges of aligning diverse stakeholder interests. I attended a Hawaii law symposium with my supervisor and saw the governor sign legislation strengthening the environmental court system. When I spilled coffee a little later, I blamed the stars in my eyes.
Oahu feels packed with exciting endemic sights. Japanese visitors take cartoon-covered buses to selfie at a farmer’s market. The rich scent of plumeria flowers’ fills the air around a mortuary. Yelp-approved swimming coves hide 6ft black tip reef sharks and rare Hawaiian monk seals. The sunset feels bolder when it dominates an unobscured horizon line, and the ocean seems bluer from a scenic ridge or island-hopping airplane.
On the island of Hawaii, Conservation International is assisting a traditional fishing community undertake scientific coastal resource monitoring. Tracking this data will hopefully help them enter a management partnership with the state. I’m documenting this process, shooting footage of their trainings, summer camp education, and the weeklong monitoring. Community members set transects on rocky reefs to record a baseline. Children learn why counting nearby fish is important to their future. Locals share why they love where they live and how much the ocean means to them. My project manager and I snorkeled around a black sand bay; we saw colorful fish swimming near bleaching and dead algae-covered coral. Reminders of how important recording change can be when global problems touch even small island communities.
Outside the office, I know Honolulu streets, sandy beaches, and an affordable pho restaurant. I’ve been on gorgeous hikes with new friends that I met at a popular gay club. A neighbor recognized me and smiled during an afternoon walk. On my best days, I feel like another aspect of this island, less a temporary presence and more a part of the scenery.