Hawaiian Electric grant to Ka Ahahui o Ka Nahelehele helps sustain ohia

Initiative collects and preserves ohia seeds

Release Date: 1/20/2020

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KAMUELA, HI Jan. 20, 2020 – The nonprofit Ka Ahahui o Ka Nahelehele, which works to protect Hawaii’s dryland forests, has received a $27,500 grant from Hawaiian Electric for its Rapid Ohia Death Seed Banking Initiative, an effort to preserve seeds from the native ohia tree for future forest reforestation.

Ohia are a species of flowering evergreen in the myrtle family that are endemic to Hawaii. The trees, which help sustain the island’s biodiversity, have declined by the hundreds of thousands on Hawaii Island due to a fungal disease called rapid ohia death that has no known treatment. The disease also has been found on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.

“This is a wonderful blessing for the Hawaii Island Seed Bank and for ohia trees, which are the foundation of Hawaii’s forests,” said Jill Wagner, program director. “We are very grateful Hawaiian Electric understands that saving ohia seeds is the most positive thing we can do to guarantee the future of this native keystone species. Seed saving is important, and this partnership will allow us to greatly expand our ohia seed collection efforts.”

Rapid ohia death has already killed more than 135,000 acres of ohia forest on Hawaii Island. Wagner said research has shown the fungus is not found in the seeds, which means they can be collected and stored for future planting. The Hawaii Island Seed Bank, located in an off-grid facility in Kona, is the major collector of ohia seeds in the state and the only established seed bank for Hawaii Island’s ohia seed collection.

Wagner said the Hawaiian Electric grant would be used to collect seeds from about 100 trees located in 11 identified seed zones to represent the diversity of ohia at various sites where they have adapted to climate, soil conditions, and elevations.

“The potential for rapid ohia death to spread statewide underscores the urgency of the work by conservationists to save ohia seeds for the future,” said Sharon Suzuki, president of Hawaiian Electric’s Maui County and Hawaii Island utilities, upon presenting the grant. “Helping to protect a species that holds cultural and environmental significance is important to us as a company that is focused on sustainability and stewardship of our natural resources.”

Suzuki said part of the funding would be used to support education about the ohia tree in Hawaii watersheds, and training for volunteers to assist with collecting seeds. Ka Ahahui o Ka Nahelehele is working with Hawaiian Electric to develop a program for its employees to volunteer with the project and collect seeds in Hawaii Island forests.

To donate to the program or learn more about Ka Ahahui o Ka Nahelehele, visit drylandforest.org.