An Interview with Alana Yurkanin of the Maui Marine “Mermaid Team.”
This Quarter we are excited to support The Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii Chapter as our Partner of the Quarter! The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a global nonprofit whose mission is to conserve our land and waters and create a world where people and nature can thrive. Spanning 72 countries and six continents, TNC has chapters all over the world working to solve some of our most pressing environmental challenges. Here on the island of Maui, a group of dedicated scientists and conservationists are working to address the island’s fragile terrestrial and marine ecosystems. I sat down with Alana Yurkanin, TNC’s Maui Marine Project Manager, and a vital member of the group’s “mermaid team” to ask her more about the group.
“Mermaid team” is a moniker the Marine Team, who all happen to be wahine (women), gave to themselves. Although the term “mermaid” conjures images of fish-scale tails and ocean treasure collections, these women are responsible for a much more impactful collection—data on the health of our oceans. The TNC Marine Team shares a great love and connection to the ocean.
“The important part is not losing sight of why we are doing this work,” Alana says.
Some of their important work includes water quality monitoring, ‘opihi (a type of mollusk) monitoring, coral bleaching monitoring, and outreach. All of these projects are ongoing and growing with Maui’s ever-evolving environment and climate. For example, coral bleaching monitoring occurs every several months to monitor changes over time, and the team increases the survey frequency when the water temperature changes. This summer has been very warm with high water temperatures, which often leads to greater coral bleaching. Alana expects the results of the surveys to be available to the public soon, with photography to illustrate any current bleaching.
While the health of coral may seem inconsequential to our daily lives, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Coral is a microscopic animal that colonizes to form the large coral heads that create our beautiful reefs and habitats for fish and sea creatures. As you begin to see the bigger picture, you discover the multitude of connections between the health of our coral reefs and our lives as humans. The interconnectedness is what drives The Nature Conservancy’s mission. When I asked Alana what her favorite part of working for TNC in Hawaii was, she said it was the organization’s approach to conservation with both nature and people in mind.
“[TNC] Acknowledges we are all intrinsically connected and to serve one without the other doesn’t really make sense,” she said, “every project and effort is an attempt to be holistic. To just focus on one thing and not the greater picture is kind of like a band-aid, rather than getting to the heart of what’s going on.”
Alana explained that in order to accomplish this connection, TNC often acts as a connector, bringing people together to have meaningful conversations about topics that aren’t normally discussed, but are important to getting to the heart of conservation issues. Alana believes this holds true throughout TNC’s global reach. Although each chapter works on specific place-based issues and projects, “our approach and values are the same: partnerships and relationships being key, and maintaining ‘integrity beyond reproach’.”
Yes, The Nature Conservancy is doing incredible work connecting humans and nature and finding meaningful ways to help us all thrive, but that does not mean we are off the hook! Hawaii in particular is made up of so many unique and one-of-a-kind ecosystems and microclimates that we all need to be more aware of our environmental impact. Whether you are visiting or you call Hawaii home, Alana advises us all to “keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open.” She says that we need to be very aware of the impact we have on the environment and therefore Hawaiian culture by not being afraid to ask questions and find ways to reciprocate all that these islands give to us.
“It’s a mindset,” Alana says, “when you come here to LEARN as opposed to BRING.”
If you would like to give back in a meaningful way, The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii is always accepting volunteers for their projects from invasive ginger pulling, water quality testing with Hui O Ka Wai Ola, and their summertime ‘opihi monitoring project! Click HERE to sign up, and of course, donations go a long way in helping TNC achieve their conservation goals, helping nature and people thrive.
Skyline Hawaii is proud to support The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii’s efforts this quarter and their work protecting Hawaii’s fragile marine and terrestrial resources and ecosystems. If you would like to further support them, you can do so by donating when you book a zipline tour with us at zipline.com/maui for our Maui courses, or when booking a Road to Hāna or Haleakalā Sunrise tour at skylinehawaii.com. You can also donate directly to TNC’s efforts by going to their website.
Written by Jules Trowbridge