W. Hawaii to gain 2 Sea Grant positions


Unique partnerships have resulted in West Hawaii getting two full-time University of Hawaii Sea Grant Program extension specialists by this summer.

The new jobs are important in helping improve the public’s understanding and stewardship of coastal and marine resources, as well as empowering communities, volunteers, organizations, agencies and policymakers to make well-informed decisions, participate and collaborate. The positions replace the one that ended when former Sea Grant extension specialist Sara Peck retired in August 2011, said Darren Okimoto, Sea Grant extension leader.

When Sea Grant announced shortly after Peck’s retirement that it couldn’t supply the necessary funds to keep the position or its Kailua-Kona office going, numerous residents offered their help and lobbied the program to find a way. The initiative also got the attention and support of Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, who was determined to find a partner to help undertake the funding needs. She was the one who brought Sea Grant together with the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Okimoto said.

The result: an extension specialist for Hawaii Island, shared between Sea Grant and Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center. Kauai native Pelika Bertelmann was recently hired, and the public will have an opportunity to meet her tonight during a special ReefTalk, occurring from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park visitor center.

The other extension specialist position came about roughly six months ago, when Emma Anders of the state Division of Aquatic Resources contacted Sea Grant about helping coordinate the South Kohala Conservation Action Plan. The plan, developed by The Nature Conservancy for DAR, seeks to restore a healthy South Kohala coastal system, cared for by an island community guided by the values and traditions of the district. This specialist’s duties include formalizing a working group to draft grant proposals to implement action identified in the plan, engaging the region’s stakeholders, and collaborating on various conservation and sustainability activities, Okimoto said.

Sea Grant and DAR are in the process of interviewing candidates. This extension specialist could start in as early as two to four weeks, Okimoto said. He was “ecstatic” Monday about the “wonderful” partnerships and the benefits generated for the Big Island, which has “a lot of challenges and opportunities when it comes to taking care of our marine resources, but not always the capacity needed.”

Bertelmann, 35, has lived and worked on the island for 18 years. She was a crew member of the voyaging canoe Makalii, a researcher who conducted shoreline monitoring in North Kona and South Kohala, and has been involved with many conservation efforts. Over the past five years, she has developed alternative approaches to monitoring Hawaii’s shoreline and implementing management strategies that support healthy, balanced communities.

While her work will be based in West Hawaii, Bertelmann will plan, organize and conduct activities islandwide pertaining to sustainable coastal development, fisheries, climate change, hazard-resilient coastal communities, sustainable coastal tourism and coastal ecosystem health. She will also work closely with the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center, which provides the infrastructure to support aquaculture, marine science and conservation biology programs, as well as conducts interdisciplinary research and development.

Another responsibility will be developing an annual work plan, based on her assessment of the island’s needs. Over the next three to four months, Bertelmann will meet with various stakeholders in different communities, gathering input on their needs and priorities pertaining to the health and vitality of Hawaii’s coastal resources and its people, Okimoto said. Those interested in sharing ideas are also encouraged to contact Bertelmann directly, he added.

Bertelmann, a self-described ocean person, said this new job allows her to continue to do what she loves. What Bertelmann looks forward to most is working with different communities, enhancing existing partnerships and supporting public involvement in shaping decisions that will affect them. She also plans to use traditional and place-based knowledge with the best science and research available to protect and manage coastal and marine resources.

Prior to Bertelmann starting, Chantal Chung, assistant to the extension specialist, has carried on many of Peck’s former duties with “great dedication” because “she believed in the position and recognized the important role it played in the community.” For more than a year, Chung has successfully helped with a federally funded project pertaining to managing nearshore fisheries, kept several beloved programs, such as the ReefTalks and ReefWatchers, running smoothly, and participated in community events like the Earth and Ocean Family Health and Fun Fair, Okimoto said.

For more information about tonight’s ReefTalk, call 329-2861 or email cechung@hawaii.edu.