Approximately 180 middle and high school students joined Smokey Bear, U.S. Forest Service staff and a host of other conservation-focused professionals from around the world for Student Day at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center in Honolulu.
The students were invited to learn about natural resources careers and interact with professionals during the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, World Conservation Congress, the world’s largest and most democratic recurring conservation event in the world. The event draws thousands of participants, including heads of state, business leaders, top scientists, educators and artists.
The coordinators of the island event see Student Day as a way to involve the next generation in conservation efforts and future problem solving on the island.
“It is so important that there are so many students here, because it is time for us to take action,” said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. “Each and every one of us can do something today to make the planet more sustainable.”
The U.S. Forest Service contributed multiple interactive displays and presentations covering the subjects of fire prevention, clean water and forest health. Botanists, wildlife biologists and forest ecologists engaged the students using pictures to demonstrate the importance of native plant and animal species to healthy forests. A simulated, indoor wildland fire exhibited included an appearance by Smokey Bear to help share information on fire prevention and safety. One of the most popular displays gave children the chance to try on some of the firefighters’ equipment.
“I think the kids really enjoyed the hands-on learning experience,” said Nick Vargas, volunteer coordinator for the Trail and Access Program, Oahu Branch of the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
The students were also were treated to appearances and musical performances by singer/songwriter and Goodwill Ambassador to IUCN Allison Sudol, and singer/songwriter Jack Johnson. Both performers and the professionals sharing information on natural resource conservation found a receptive audience in the students of Hawaii, who demonstrated a unique kinship with their island.
“Conservation is important as a native Hawaiian – it’s our life’s duty,” said 10th grader Waialeola Sarson.