Hello, my name is Livie Sears and I’m an up-coming Junior at Ohio State. For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to go to several Hawaiian islands to learn about different unique plant and animal life and the general natural beauty of the sea and landscape there. I hope to inspire others with the beauty of nature, and hopefully in turn spark in them the desire to be a conservationist. Through hiking, scuba diving, and recording my observations in a journal and with photography, I’m creating this website to highlight the beauty and worth of Hawaii.
This whole idea really took its roots the summer before my freshman year of college. My two older brothers suggested that we hang out as siblings before I started at Ohio State, so we drove down to Tennessee to spend a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even though my first couple hikes were hard and left me with muscle soreness that lasted several days, I fell in love with hiking and the National Parks. Since then, I’ve hiked 9 other National Parks (including 3 in Canada) and my ultimate goal is to hike all 59 U.S. National Parks. This goal has led me to become so much more in tune with my passions. Before I went to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I had never realized my great love for nature, exercise, and outdoor adventure. Exploring these passions has led me to other interests too, like conservation and sustainability.
Although I knew I wanted to do some kind of hiking/adventure project for STEP from the beginning of the year, the idea to incorporate sustainability really bloomed over Spring Break. For 2018 Spring Break, two of my friends and I went on a road trip to see some National Parks in Florida. While we stayed on Elliot Key, part of Biscayne National Park, we had the pleasure of meeting two amazing National Park volunteers. They taught us with such care and depth about the fragile ecosystems on the keys in that area, and explained how susceptible they are to pollution and human activity. Meeting them made me realize that for my STEP Project, I wanted to highlight the beauty and importance of Hawaii to help people see how special our planet is, and that we all need to make changes to keep it that way.
I started this project on the Big Island of Hawaii. After taking a day to get settled and sleep after our long sequence of flights and layovers, my brother and I decided to start exploring. My brother, Nick, and I drove two hours south to the National Park on Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Our first step once we arrived was to get recommendations and safety information from the Park Rangers assigned to that park. Together, we made a plan to do two multiday hikes in a row;
Map of Hawaii National Park Trails
Day 1: Hike 8.5 miles down Keauhou Trail to Halape
Day 2: Hike 11.5 across the Puna Coast Trail, Hitchhike back up to our car, Hike about 6 miles over the Napau Trail to Napau Crater
Day 3: Hike about 6 miles back
My Brother and I in front of the Volcanic Ash Eruption at Napau
After we planned our hike, packed our packs, and filled up on water, we made our way to the trail head. We started our hike on a field of black dried lava, and as the day progressed you could imagine the intense heat only worsened when it reflected back up at us from the hot black ground. After a few hours, we finally reached the grassier portion of the hike. As we stopped to get a drink of water, I turned around and saw a pinkish cloud, and quickly realized it was some kind of eruption. At that exact moment, a Park Ranger called my brothers phone and told us that our plan for tomorrow wasn’t going to work, because the crater next to our campsite, Napau, had erupted volcanic ash and was an unsafe area. My brother and I were awestruck and couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to avoid being in serious danger by 1 day. We continued our hike and finally made it to Halape after what felt like forever, hiking in the stifling heat without any shade cover was a new experience for me, and exhausted me more than I expected.
Even though I was pretty beat after the hike down, Halape was beautiful and having a beach completely to yourself in Hawaii was well worth it. Before we set up camp for the night, my brother and I swam in a tide pool, walked around and explored, and relaxed in the shade. The next morning, I woke up and immediately knew I was severely dehydrated, and we had already gone through half the water supply for the hike. There was water available at Halape, but it was non-potable and had to be treated before consumption and we didn’t have iodine tablets to purify the water. About 30 minutes into the 11.5 mile hike back, I was feeling really sluggish and sick. I knew the dehydration would only get worse and slow us down as the day got hotter and hotter, so we decided to stop at the next water station and fill up the rest of our water bottles with the non-potable water. Even though we were taking a significant risk by drinking the non-potable water, it was the last water station and we decided we would rather drink it and potentially get sick rather than not drink it and know we were going to struggle through the rest of the hike (I’m SO thankful we refilled on water, because we ended up finishing all 4 liters on that hike and still needing plenty of fluids when we got back).
Volcanic Rock Trails
The hike continued and took us through several different landscapes. First, tall grasses and bush, then dramatic cliffs overlooking water violently surging into the rock below, and then dried volcanic lava for the last third of the hike. By the time we got to the lava portion, my whole body was dripping with sweat from the heat, despite the constant and forceful winds blowing along the coast. It was mid-day and the sun was beating down on us, worsening the sunburn that persisted to redden despite my 5 coats of SPF 50. I looked up noticed another volcanic ash cloud forming to our left, and 10 minutes later the ground started shaking. Nick and I just looked at each other and then held on for stability, we couldn’t believe we were experiencing an earthquake. All I could imagine was hot lava streaming down the side of the mountain towards us, or a tsunami forming. The noise the dried lava made when it scraped against itself was horrifying, it sounded as if at any moment it was going to break apart and reveal hot lava oozing up and engulfing the rocks under our feet. The earthquake only lasted about 30 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. A few minutes after the shaking subsided, a giant mushroom cloud of pinkish volcanic ash erupted from the same spot it had about 20 minutes earlier.
Finishing the hike was one of the physically hardest things I’ve ever done. The hike across the coast was flat, so the challenge wasn’t the elevation gain, but the heat. I’d never experienced dehydration, sunburn, and muscle and heat exhaustion to this extent before and I won’t lie, I cried a little … don’t tell my brother. We finally got back to the road, and saw a Park Ranger directing traffic. He let us know that the park was being evacuated due to the earthquakes, landslides, and expected lava flow. My brother and I had to completely change our plan, and drove to the other side of the island to stay in an Airbnb.
We stayed another day or so on the Big Island, and then headed to Maui. Since we were on Maui for over a week, our main goal was to tackle our scuba diving certification. The online learning portion typically takes ~3 days to complete (or 1 night if you’re like us and procrastinate until the night before the in-water training), and then 3 days of dive training. The E-Learning was actually pretty fun, and definitely necessary to learn all the safety basics.
My Scuba Diving Crew
I will not lie, the first day of dive training was rough for me. I had gotten sick in the past couple of days and it caused me to be really queasy, so before I even got to get in the water I got sick in the beach public bathroom… and then again after my first dive. Surprisingly though, I felt much better when I was in the water rather than on the surface. Underwater, we worked on basic skills, like clearing your mask of water, practicing what to do if your air runs out, learning how to read and communicate your gage pressure, learning how to breath from your regulator (the mouthpiece) when it’s spewing air freely, towing a tired diver, bouyancy, skin diving, etc. Those skills sound simple in theory, but are surprisingly intimidating underwater. Each day of training went from 7:00am-3:00pm. For the first two days of training, we did all our skill training first, then got to finish with a little guided dive at the end. On the third day, we did 2 open water dives, and each got to lead a portion of the last dive. On our open water dives, we explored a small coral reef off of the beach, and were lucky enough to see a few green sea turtles, plenty of fish, and some moray eels. Something really interesting about Hawaii is that there are fish indigenous to each island.
We took full advantage of our new Open Water Diver certification, and went on a boat dive two days later. We sailed out near an island off the Maui coast, called Molokini. Molokini is known for its amazing visibility, and I can attest to the clarity of water… we were able to see 100+ft ahead of us. Around the reef of Molokini, we saw all kinds of creatures, sea cucumbers, moray eels, cushion starfish, blowfish, parrotfish, various butterflyfish, needlefish, various tangs, triggerfish (aka the Humuhumunukanukaapua’a, the state fish of Hawaii), boxfish, and much more! After we finished the Molokini dive, we got back on the boat and sailed back to the east side of the island, where we replaced our tanks and did another dive. Here we saw much of the same fish, but saw an octopus and green sea turtle as well. We were even lucky enough to hear a whale! This was extremely unexpected, because typically whales have left the Hawaii area by April. The dive guides explained that this whale was probably a mother who had her child late. From December to April, whales migrate to the Hawaiian Islands from Alaska to feed, breed, and nurse their young until they’re strong enough to swim long distance with minimal assistance.
View Along the Bike Trail
Although the scuba diving certification process took up a good chunk of our time on Maui, we did some other interesting things too! One day, we biked 28 miles down the inactive volcano on the island, Haleakala. On the way down, we stopped at several points to take in the view (or grab coffee at a local shop).
We also got to do some hiking on the last few days. We headed to Haleakala National Park and planned out a multi-day hike with a Park Ranger, who made sure to go over the seven “Leave No Trace Principles” (Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors).
Map of Haleakala Trails
Day 1: Hike 8.5 miles down the Sliding Sands (Keonehe’ehe’e) Trail and part of the Halemau’u Trail to Holua to camp overnight
Day 2: Hike 4 miles of the remaining Halemau’u Trail back to the road
Silversword Plant – Rare plant seen on the Sliding Sands Trail
Sight Along the Sliding Sands Trail
The hike was beautiful, and almost other worldly, the sands were colored bright oranges and yellows and the plants on the terrain looked like they were straight out of a movie. After returning to the car, we celebrated my last day by getting lunch and going for one last swim. I left Maui that night at 10:30 pm.
The initial purpose of my project was to inspire others to live more sustainably by sharing my experience interacting with the nature of the Hawaiian Islands. As I wrote this post, however, I realized that I want to inspire you to get out and experience nature for yourself. You will never be moved to change your lifestyle until you experience the calm and quiet of the forest at night, or the smell of warm pine during a day-hike. Once you experience all the subtleties of the outdoors, you feel like it’s your job to protect it. If you want to start exploring, National and State parks are an amazing way to get away without having to drive too far.
If you’re interested in making some changes here are some quick things you can do:
– Switch to metal/reusable straws – MILLIONS of tons of straws enter the ocean each year, and since they’re plastic, they never break down fully. Swap your plastic straws for a reusable one, or skip the straw all together! If you want to take this further, there are plenty of one-time-use plastic kitchen items that you can replace with more sustainable versions, including sandwich bags and plastic wrap!
– Reduce your meat/dairy consumption – A lot of people are feel uncertain about adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, because they would have to give up a large part of what they currently eat, but you don’t have to fully make the switch to help make a difference! Animal agriculture is one of the top 5 greenhouse gas emitters, so cutting out even a couple of meaty meals a week makes a difference. Try switching from cows milk to soy, almond, coconut, flax, or cashew milk and from beef burgers to black bean or quinoa burgers.
– Focus on reusables – Replace items with their reusable counterpart! Some ideas include reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, canvas bags (you can use these at the grocery store AND retail stores), plates and silverware (instead of paper plates and plastic cutlery), and using cloth rather than paper towel!
– Buy a bamboo toothbrush – Similarly to straws, tons of toothbrushes end up in the ocean each year and never break down! By choosing a
View Along the Halemau’u Trail
bamboo toothbrush, you can combat that waste. If you’re not a fan of the bamboo feel, there are plenty of other kinds of sustainable toothbrush options too that are more similar to a traditional toothbrush.
All of the ideas listed above are simple and can be implemented right away! The glooming task of slowing and reversing the damage we’ve done to our planet can be really daunting, but by making small changes, and encouraging others to do so as well, you can make a difference.
I hope my project has inspired you to step outside and make a change.