(BIVN) – The third ʻŌhiʻa Love Fest was held on Sunday in Hilo. The Department of Land and Natural Resources recorded video of the event and shared this media release:
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. 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.
Extension Forester JB Friday of The University of Hawaii 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 2800-3000 people attended some portion of the seven-hour-long festival.
This morning, periodic, but brief rain showers seemed to keep attendance a little lighter, but 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.
Emphasis is on keiki activities with booths or tables where young ones could create ʻōhiʻa tutu’s 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.
Friday said, “Decontamination procedures for footwear and vehicles are an important component of what we ask all visitors to our forests to practice. 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.” By completing a survey at the festival, people were given free decontamination kits.
Friday’s encouragement was echoed during the Festival Opening/Kīpaepae. During the protocol, Noʻel 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.
She asked the crowd, “How can I help… look into the inquisitive part of you because you may be the person that stops the fungus from spreading. 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, since it was first identified five years ago, 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 today’s ʻŌhiʻa Love Fest, continue to be invaluable in raising awareness. A survey conducted two years ago, showed 90% of Big Island residents are aware of the disease while statewide it 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 (DOFAW) and the University of Hawai‘i, with support and participation from numerous other government institutions and non-profit organizations.