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ʻŌhiʻa Love Fest Celebrated in Hilo

August 25, 2019, 4:45 PM HST
* Updated August 25, 4:03 PM
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Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death has been confirmed on every major Hawaiian Island, but a little love can go a long way.

Since last year’s ʻŌhiʻa Love Fest at the Imiloa Astronomy Center, the less virulent of two strains of the fungal disease known as Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death was detected in single trees on O‘ahu and Maui, according to a press release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

The disease has now been detected on Kaua‘i, Maui, O‘ahu and on Hawai‘i Island. Ground zero continues to be the Big Island, where both strains of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death have killed hundreds of thousands of trees. This is the reason the ʻŌhiʻa Love Fest was conceived three years ago, the release continued.

Extension Forester JB Friday, of The University of Hawai‘i, is one of the key players in the multi-agency collaboration to try and determine the cause of the fungus, how it spreads, possible treatment and support intensive education and outreach efforts underway.

The love fest, Friday explained, “is the single largest public event we stage to really inform people of all ages what they can do to help stem the spread of the fungus.” Last year, it’s estimated 2,800 to 3,000 people attended some portion of the seven-hour-long festival.

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On the morning of Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019, periodic, but brief, rain showers seemed to keep attendance a little lighter. However, organizers hoped with clearing skies, the crowd would grow. Dozens of displays and interactive activities were available outside on the lawn and inside the astronomy center.

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The emphasis at the festival was on keiki activities with booths or tables where young ones could create ʻōhiʻa tutus or push toy trucks through a muddy tray, followed by a demo of the sanitation practices experts ask adult drivers to employ on their vehicles when exiting any forest area anywhere in the state, the release said.

“Decontamination procedures for footwear and vehicles are an important component of what we ask all visitors to our forests to practice,” Friday said. “Hunters, hikers, bird-watchers, backpackers, naturalists, cultural practitioners … anyone who enjoys Hawaiian forests where ʻōhiʻa is the keystone tree species can really help in the effort to stop Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death in its tracks.”

Friday’s encouragement was echoed during the Festival Opening/Kīpaepae. During the protocol, No‘el Tagab-Cruz, of Hawai‘i Community College, asked audience members to become citizen scientists and to take actions in their personal lives to stop the spread of this fungal disease.

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“How can I help … look into the inquisitive part of you because you may be the person that stops the fungus from spreading,” she said. “You might be the answer … you may be the answer to all of the questions we have.”

While intensive research on Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death continues, Friday believes additional and consistent funding needs to be dedicated to the fight. He said this will be a long fight, one that will probably never be fully won, but people armed with information and education can take actions to help reduce transmission.

Outreach efforts, like Sunday’s ʻŌhiʻa Love Fest, continue to be valuable to raising awareness, the release said. A survey conducted two years ago showed 90% of Big Island residents are aware of the disease, while statewide the figure was 50%. Both of those percentages have likely risen with subsequent Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death detections.

The ʻŌhiʻa Love Fest was sponsored and organized by the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the University of Hawai‘i, with support and participation from numerous other government institutions and non-profit organizations.

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