Army conservationists explain vital but overlooked role of preserving Oahu's ecosystems
Written by
J. Eston Dunn
Part of the seed lab at Schofield Barracks.
Image By
Courtesy of J. Eston Dunn

Operating out of Schofield Barracks nestled the central valley of Oahu, the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program (OANRP) operates at the crossroads of cutting edge conservation and military, shared biologists and staff, to preserve Hawaii’s past, natural and military.

Soldiers, researchers and volunteers come together under the supervision of the OANRP staff to study, harvest and protect Hawaiian ecosystems that scientists say are some of the most threatened on earth.

“A lot of what we do is preserving the 120 endangered species on Army land,” explained Kapua Kawelo, Natural Resource manager for the U.S. Army Garrison in Hawaii.

The plants the OANRP works with are some of the rarest in the world and others thought to be extinct before being discovered by OANRP workers, Kawelo continued.

 “Most people don’t appreciate the resources the Army puts into preservation,” said OANRP Biologist Paul Smith. “It’s a lot of time and individuals working long days to pull this together.”

Inside the Seed Lab

With more than 9 million seeds of native Hawaiian plants in storage, the seed lab sits as the crown jewel of the OANRP facility, said Kawelo.

“The primary purpose of the seed lab is to work as an ecological backup in case of a natural disaster like a flood or fire,” explained Kawelo. “Having this resource is vital to our ecological contingency plan.

“The idea behind the seed lab is you want to extend the life span of the plant as long as possible either through freezing or refrigeration as a backup.”

The process begins, Kawelo shared, as volunteers go out into Hawaiian jungles to harvest seeds, most importantly from the known 120 endangered species on Army land. Gathered seeds are then separated, processed and dried either with drying salts or mechanically.

Through years of experimentally testing, Kawelo continued, the OANRP has determined both the optimal moisture and temperature to store the seeds for maximum shelf life, some lasting as long as 20 years. Some seeds require liquid nitrogen deep freezes to stay healthy in storage. According to Kawelo, seeds are germinated on an as-needed basis either for testing to determine optimal storage conditions or bolster wild population. Once germinated then they will be put in a simulation chamber to recreate temperature and light cycle, before eventually being moved out into the greenhouses.

When seed collections decline, more seeds are harvested and the cycle starts anew.

How to get involved

Participation in conservation efforts of the OANRP are open to anyone at any level of commitment.

At the most basic level, Smith encouraged individuals to practice basic biosecurity. “Look at the landscape around you and how you influence that,” Smith explained.

“Check your boots. If you’re recreating in a different part of the island, clean your equipment and shoes. Educate yourself on invasive species and report sightings to proper sources.”

However, for more invested individuals, Smith continued, the OANRP is always looking for volunteers for work days and people and programs with science backgrounds to partner with them.

Interested individuals can visit the OANRP website to find out more.

Date Published
June 18, 2019
Last Edited
June 18, 2019