Years ago, when I was just a wee lad, I was blessed to have a family that was enamored with Hawaii and nature. Growing up with a camera in hand, I’ve seen and captured some amazing things: Newborn Pacific Humpback calves being carried on their mother’s snout; just-hatched, Nene goslings and tracks in the sand of baby Hawksbill turtles starting their journey of life.

Nature is grand!

So when I opened today’s edition of the Maui News and saw the image of a Louisiana Brown Pelican sheathed in oil, it brought tears to my eyes.

Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have really cared. I didn’t have the appreciation for our environment as I do now. Give credit to my mentor, Robert Glenn Ketchum. For over 40 years, Robert’s images, words and books have helped shape environmental awareness in America and across the globe. But the thing that Robert’s most recognized for is his work to preserve the Tongass Rainforest in Alaska, of which he is credited with helping to pass the Tongass Timber Reform Bill in 1990 – establishing five major wilderness areas and protecting more than one million acres of old-growth forest.

I met Robert several years ago while he was on Maui presenting a workshop in Hana. We became fast friends and he took me under his wing. He not only taught me how to “see” light and understand how it works in the camera, but how to open my eyes to the world, and to use my images for the betterment of this planet we live on. Through Robert’s guidance, I embarked to not only photograph beautiful scenery, flora and fauna, but to capture the mana (power) and ‘uhane (spirit) of the Islands, sharing them with others, and giving them to select conservational outlets.

Many of the images include “my friends” that visit every winter – the endangered Pacific Humpback Whale. The Humpback has been special to our family since we came here in the mid-1970s. We “adopted” Ha’nai Nani, our beautiful foster child, in June 1988. A juvenile at the time, he (or she) had a beautiful black tail with perfect white lining. The word, “majestic”, doesn’t even come close to describing this whale. While we haven’t seen “our” whale in quite some time, every winter I’m out in a Zodiac, days on end, camera in hand, looking for him/her, capturing these gentle giants swimming and playing in their backyard. I’ll tell ya, there’s not another chicken-skin moment like having a Humpback spyhop next to your boat, and there’s a four-inch diameter eye staring at you!

That is unless you want to count a whale exhaling right beside you (at 300 mph!). Whale snot isn’t the most pleasant thing to experience, but to be close to these amazing animals, I don’t mind a bit. Besides, it makes your skin shiny (eeewww!).

Anyhow, I started thinking about this Brown Pelican, the other birds, animals, plants and the sea life in the Gulf. Then I thought about the ramifications if the same disaster struck Hawaii. Like the Gulf, devastating doesn’t even start to describe it. We’ve already been watching our coral reefs shrink from injection wells; reef fish disappearing to the aquarium trade and there are 28 extinct species of native-Hawaiian birds (the State Bird, Nene, numbered less than 30 in 1955. Prior to 1778, there were about 25,000. Today, there are about 3,000) on the roster. Add a bazillion gallons of crude and, well, you get the picture.

I guess, in a way, it explains why I enjoy talking to people about the ‘Aina (land) and Kai (sea) – to look and take pictures and leave for others to enjoy. Protect the beauty of the land and sea for now and our future generations to enjoy.

I try to have fun with it. When it comes to the turtles, it’s simple: “Eh brah, fo’ no touch da honu! Oddah wise you get bit!” Or my warning about the whales: “Sure you can touch them. Just be sure you can pay the $50,000 fine for molesting an endangered species!” Some people laugh and others think I’m nuts. But if we don’t take care of, and protect what we have, our children and grand children will only learn about our world through pictures of what once was.

Like the image I have of a Bishop’s ‘O’o – a beautiful black bird with bright yellow under feathers with a loud echoing “oh-oh” call… Last heard and seen in 1981. Aloha my friend.