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Young People Plant Coastal Garden to Benefit Endangered Sea Turtles

Under a bright Hawaiian sun, a group of girls ages 11 to 18 planted a special vegetable garden that will not only teach others about ecosystems but will also help endangered sea turtles. The project is inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Lets Move! campaign and the USDA People’s Garden Initiative. The girls, who attend the same church in Mililani, Hawaii, needed a community service project. Sea Life Park on Oahu had land and a seed of an idea to plant a garden. The U.S. Forest Service helped to bring the two groups together.

What resulted is a coastal garden of broccoli, lettuce and native plants that will supplement the diets of rescued sea turtles at the Sea Life Park and Hawaii Pacific University’s Ocean Institute Rescue Program. Marine biologists and U.S. Forest Service ecologists worked alongside the young women, answering questions about natural resource careers and emphasizing the importance of a college education.

Project organizers worked with Hui Ku Maoli Ola nursery to select not just beautiful plants for the new green space but native ones specifically adapted to the sun, wind and salt from the sea. An added benefit to the garden is that it will capture sediment that would have reached the coral reefs below and will provide valuable food and shelter for native Hawaiian animals. Many of the plants selected, such as the Koki’o Kea or endemic hibiscus, will also be used in hands-on cultural activities such as lei making. At the close of the planting project, each volunteer received a VIP pass to bring family and friends back to Sea Life Park to share what they learned and to check on the garden.

The new garden, situated between the mountains and the sea – or mauka to makai in traditional Hawaiian – is now a dedicated living classroom where students can see connections between healthy forests and clean water.