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DLNR News Release-Wahi Pana Essay Contest Opens for Hawaii High School Students

Posted on Dec 17, 2019 in Latest Department News

Think Globally, Write Locally to Win a Day in the Field with Conservationists

(Honolulu) – High school students across Hawai‘i are encouraged to write about a wahi pana, (a pulsing place) special to them, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of International Earth Day on April 22, 2020. The contest is presented by the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).

During the past half century the ‘aina of Hawai‘i has changed dramatically. What will our natural landscapes look like in the next 50 years and what needs to happen to restore those that have been damaged or destroyed?  Students who enter the contest are asked to interview someone over 50 years-old with whom they share a wahi pana; a cherished landscape. Together, the student and elder are creating a written record for future generations.

Jeff Bagshaw, a DOFAW Outreach and Communications Specialist, based on Maui, is the Wahi Pana Essay Contest Coordinator. He explained, “Ask an elder what native Hawaiian species they recall from their first experience in a place. Visit the place again today and see what’s changed over the decades. What will the next 50 years bring and what personal steps can the student take to change the future of their chosen wahi pana?”

Students are asked to write a 1,500-word (maximum of 3 pages) essay focusing on one of four ecosystem-categories: Marine/coastal, Stream/marsh, Dry/leeward forests, or Wet/windward forests.

One first and one second-place essay for each ecosystem, and for each of the four island counties (16 first-place and 16 second-place winners statewide) will be selected by judges who are professional writers or conservationists working on public and/or private lands.

The rewards are priceless and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The four first-place winners from each island will accompany conservationists for a day into remote areas or get behind the scenes tours where conservation work is being done. These places are usually inaccessible and could include:

  • Kaua‘i – fly into the Ku‘ia or Hono o na pali Natural Area Reserves
  • O‘ahu – journey into the Ka‘ala Natural Area Reserve in the Wai‘anae mountains
  • Maui Nui – fly into Hanawi or Nakula Natural Areas Reserves
  • Hawai‘i Island – fly into Pu‘u o umi Natural Area Reserve

Additionally, first and second place winners, as well as their families, are invited to a special hike and luncheon on each island. They may be asked to read a select passage from their essay on camera for a video production. Essays will also be published on DLNR/DOFAW websites as well as in print journals.

Winners will be announced on International Earth Day next year.  The first-place excursion awards for each island will be scheduled to match students and special guests’ availability, as will the awards luncheon/hike.

Bagshaw added, “We believe Hawai‘i students and their kupuna have unique stories to share with the world, to help us all prepare for the future.”

Online applications and essays are due no later than February 14, 2020.

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For more information go to:

Or to directly download essay application and instructions:


Media Contact:

Dan Dennison
Senior Communications Manager
(808) 587-0396
[email protected]