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Sara Bowen of Malama Hulē'ia

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

I first met Sara last year while she presented to my Leadership Kaua'i class about the work she was heading up. I was struck by her candor and clarity in describing the work and why it mattered. I was also impressed by her unwavering courage to tackle such a huge endeavor! Now a year later she is continuing to make greater impacts with full access to the fish-pond and growing a strong community connection to the work she is doing.

When did you know this was the kind of work you wanted to do?  As a late teen/young adult I enjoyed camping and hiking and was really drawn to the shape of natural water systems, especially where they intersected with human use such as a footpath bridge crossing a stream flowing through an old growth forest. In fact, it was in a place just like this, on the Oregon Coast, that it hit me. I knew I wanted to study and work in an environmental field with an emphasis on geomorphology.

*Geomorphology the scientific study of the origin and evolution of topographic and bathymetric features created by physical, chemical or biological processes operating at or near the Earth's surface.

How does this particular project resonate with what interests you?  This project resonates with me on several levels. The work we are doing will improve water quality, fish and wildlife habitat and the overall ecosystem function. Most rewarding to me is to see the human connection to this historically significant place restored.  The project is complex and requires a great deal of collaboration amongst regulatory agencies, contractors, resource advocates, community and educators. I find that collaborative work to be very fulfilling.

How do you define success? I wish I was better at defining success or articulating it better. We have metrics to report to our funding agencies such as number of acres of mangrove removed and native vegetation planted, water quality parameters, number of volunteers, etc. But I think there is an underlying metric that involves feeling supported. Supported by the community and by all those collaborators I mentioned earlier. That’s hard to define but is sensed and feeds the drive under which we work.

Who or What were key influencers in your journey? Being a student was never my strong point so having a few encouraging instructors to help push me through to get my science degree was key. Even more so was finding my way into an internship position in my field of work while in college with a mentor that became a lifelong friend. That internship gave me valuable hands on experience, the best kind in my opinion, which prepared me for the next steps of my career.

What have you had to overcome in order to achieve success? I think I’ve been lucky in life and work – I’ve been told that my perseverance is an attribute and pays off. If I think about it, there have been times when I’ve been told “no” or that something I’m working toward isn’t possible but instead of giving up I take a new approach. Usually when you hear a no in this type of project there is a fear of risk/liability or failure or cost. If you can come back with reasonable solutions to these fears (maybe multiple times) they are usually overcome.  What is your greatest strength? Listening, cooperating (bringing people together) and working with a higher purpose in mind.

What do you wish someone would have told you? Someone probably did tell me this but I’m still struggling to put it into practice…Don’t lose sleep over it! Meaning, when I’m dealing with something stressful it doesn’t help to take that stress home or lose sleep over it because it will usually work itself out or be far easier to handle in the next couple of days than you might think.

What have been the major milestones in this process?  Major milestones have been to gain access to the fishpond and secure a long-term lease agreement in order to do the work, to secure funding to do the work and then starting the work. The day we broke through and cleared a pathway to be able to see the fishpond through nearly 300-ft of mangrove from the ground…that was a major milestone.  What is the one thing you you enjoy most? For me, the part that I like best is looking at the big picture and fitting all of the pieces and players together in a way that will get us to our goal.  What are you excited about in this season? I’m excited to be planning out and implementing the details and next steps of the next big push of mangrove removal at the fishpond.

Thank you Sara for sharing the journey that your work has taken you on.

Follow the work she is doing via instagram at @malama_huleia . Join us this month to celebrate the 1 year anniversary and

volunteer to help continue the progress made at the fish-pond!  

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