By Jacob Roberts

Last Saturday the EcoRotary Club partnered with the Rotary Club of West Pearl Harbor and UH Manoa to work on their on-campus coconut grove. The Meetup group Hawaii Young Professionals and the Hard Rock Cafe also brought many volunteers to the event. Situated at the back of the UH West Oahu campus, next to the Student Organic Garden, volunteers have been planting coconut palms at this location over the span of several volunteer days.

Coconut palms, called Nui in ‘Ōlelo Hawai’ian, are an incredibly important plant for Pacific Island Communities. Historically, every part of the plant is used, including the trunk, frond, shells, husk, and leaves. Hawaiians ate coconut meat, drank coconut milk, and used coconut oil on their skin and hair. If you pick up a coconut and can hear the water sloshing around inside, that coconut can be stored and last for over a year, so it provides great food security. The coconut husk can be used to make rope and fibers. The shell can be made into a variety of sustainable products, like cups, bowls, and spoons.

Despite their usefulness and cultural significance, coconut trees have been removed from many areas across the Hawaiian Islands due to the risk of falling coconuts, and they have been threatened by the introduction of Rhinoceros Beetles. These beetles were brought in unintentionally in military equipment from Guam. They burrow into and eat the heart of the coconut trees. Rhinoceros beetles are attracted to light and are active between 7pm-midnight, so boats that leave their lights on at night can risk beetles coming on board as unwitting passengers, spreading them across other islands.

For this event, we were preparing soil for what will become a nursery for hundreds of new seedlings. The rich soil was covered with weeds that had to be removed from the roots. These beds will then be planted with hundreds of coconut palms. Buried coconuts in well-drained soil will germinate in roughly three months, but it takes five years for them to grow to about five feet and develop a trunk, which is when they can be moved to a new location and begin to grow rapidly. A mature tree can produce 50 nuts per year.

We also maintained the existing grove by clearing weeds and invasive species, such as Haole Koa, and created a mulch pile from the cleared organic debris. When we were done, the group reconvened and went around the circle sharing what each participant liked about the experience. It was great to listen to the experience of all the volunteers who were so appreciative of the opportunity to give back to the land, work with their hands in the dirt to support causes like this, and it was a reminder of why we in Rotary continue to serve and provide opportunities for community engagement.