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West Maui Community Stories: Pulling weeds to plant roots

By Staff | Jan 9, 2014

The Kuiper family at work at the Wahikuli Rain Garden.

KAHANA – While some of his friends are playing video games or surfing the Internet, 14-year-old Jake Kuiper prefers a different hobby: caring for native plants.

“Many plants endemic to Hawaii have already gone extinct, and I don’t want to see that continue,” said Jake, a freshman at Seabury Hall.

Jake is serious about his interest in plants. Over the last six months, the Kuiper family house has been transformed into a native plant nursery, which includes a well-manicured Hawaiian native plant bed and rows of potted seedlings. “I’ve lost my whole parking area,” remarked his dad, Alan. “Now it’s all plants, and I’m pretty sure an aquaponics project is next.”

Jake’s interest in the environment was first piqued by coral ecology. He spent much of his free time researching coral propagation projects – when coral is grown, fragmented and replanted. To support his son’s passion, Alan looked into opportunities to get Jake involved in local conservation programs.

“We got connected with the Ridge to Reef Initiative and helped install a community rain garden in March,” said Alan. Situated at the Wahikuli Wayside Park, the rain garden is a swatch of greenery that captures polluted water runoff before it hits the ocean, which is just a few yards away. “At first, Jake saw the rain garden as a way to control erosion and protect corals, but then he became interested in the plants themselves.”

Alan and AJ Kuiper help out with pruning at the Wahikuli Rain Garden.

Jake said the reward comes after the plants are in the ground. “When you see them thrive, it’s the greatest feeling to know you were a part of that.”

When organizers asked if anyone was willing to maintain the rain garden, Jake volunteered his family, including his four-year-old sister, A.J. Today, the three Kuiper family members tend to the garden every week. On a typical visit, Alan will make sure the irrigation system is working properly, Jake will tend to such native plants as akulikuli, pohuehue, and naupaka, and young A.J. will pull weeds.

The family lives in Kahana, about ten minutes away, so their van is filled with a collection of gardening tools and garbage bins for spur-of-the-moment visits. “We are so busy with school and work, but we come here any chance we get,” said Alan. “A half hour here, an hour there, really makes a difference.”

He added that volunteering has made a positive impact on his family. “The kids are putting a lot of effort into caring for where we live, and in turn, they’re developing a real sense of place and greater ties to the community.”

Jake agrees. “The more we plant and volunteer, the more connected I feel to this area.”

“West Maui Community Stories” features the everyday people who make West Maui the unique place that it is. The series is a project of West Maui Kumuwai.

West Maui Kumuwai (WMK) is focused on reducing land-based sources of pollution that can harm our ocean. The campaign offers ways in which individuals can take action to curb these pollutants at home, in their yard or through community projects.

WMK partners with retailers to highlight Ocean Preferred yard care products, as well as with landscapers who are committed to approaching yard care with the ocean in mind. By asking individuals and businesses to pledge their commitment, by supporting the work of community groups and non-profits and by sharing the stories of everyday ocean heroes, WMK is committed to protecting our ocean and our unique West Maui way of life.

The collaborative effort is made up of Maui community members, individuals from non-profits, state and federal agencies, and local businesses. The campaign’s strategy is supported by the nonprofit SeaWeb Asia Pacific, with funding provided by NOAA Coral. WMK also supports the efforts of the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative. To learn more, visit www.westmauikumuwai.org.