Earth Day Opportunity for Hawai‘i High School Students

December 16, 2019, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated December 15, 3:09 PM
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Courtesy photo. NPS.

The 50th anniversary of International Earth Day is coming up in April, and Hawai‘i high school students have an opportunity to participate in a unique way.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources is encouraging students across the state to write about a wahi pana (a pulsing place) special to them in preparation for the Earth Day anniversary 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, a DLNR release said.

Jeff Bagshaw, a DOFAW Outreach and Communications Specialist based on Maui, is the Wahi Pana Essay Contest Coordinator.

“Ask an elder what native Hawaiian species they recall from their first experience in a place,” Bagshaw suggested. “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 three 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.

DLNR described the rewards as 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:

  • Hawai‘i Island – fly into Pu‘u o umi Natural Area Reserve
  • 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

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.

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

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

For more information go to Otherwise, directly download essay application and instructions online.

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