Molokai man wins conservation award

Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Mac Poepoe received the 2013 Umu Kai Award on Thursday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Pacific Islands Region.

The award recognizes the Molokai resident’s lifetime of conservation management along Molokai’s northern coast.

A fisherman, educator, Vietnam veteran and conservationist, Poepoe “has inspired generations of natural resource managers throughout the state of Hawaii,” said an announcement from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. “Through partnerships with organizations like the Castle Foundation, Na Pua No’eau, the National Park Service and the University of Hawaii, Uncle Mac has developed resource materials, programs and curriculum that have in many ways set the standard for small-scale conservation management today.”

For example, Poepoe collected data and created the 2008 Pono Fishing Calendar, a guide on the life cycles of fish and other natural resources of Mo’omomi, Molokai. The guide has inspired communities on Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island to develop similar calendars for their designated areas and to adopt many other aspects of Poepoe’s conservation model.

Eric Co, program officer for marine conservation at the Castle Foundation, said Poepoe is well deserving of the Umu Kai Award.

“I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t really admire him for the kind of knowledge he has and what he’s accomplished, and what he means in terms of inspiring other folks,” he said.

In 2010, Poepoe was honored with the Malama I Ke Kai Kupuna Award for their work as conservationists and community organizers. Poepoe is co-founder of Hui Malama O Mo’omomi, which was established to teach Molokai youths how to lead a sustainable fishing lifestyle – to “care for the ocean, take what you need. No need be greedy, just respect the ocean. And, there’s a proper time for taking” certain species.

The Umu Kai Award is presented to a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner who “invokes the spirit of traditional fishing practices and management while adapting to modern fishing environments,” said Keoni Kuoha, Native Hawaiian program coordinator for Papahanaumokuakea.

Past recipients of the award include Hawaiian navigator and former Kamehameha Schools Board of Trustees Chairman Nainoa Thompson, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila and Mahina Paishon-Duarte, the principal of Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School on Oahu.

The award was presented to Poepoe on Thursday in Kaunakakai during a Marine Resource Fair and public lecture on ocean awareness and conservation. The event included a 10-minute congratulatory video featuring Poepoe’s family, friends, conservation leaders and students who have been touched by Poepoe.