Maui News

Wahi Pana Essay Contest for Hawai‘i High School Students

December 16, 2019, 4:44 PM HST
* Updated December 16, 1:51 PM
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Wahi Pana essay contest flyer. PC: DLNR

High school students across Hawai‘i are encouraged to write about a wahi pana, a celebrated or noted place that is special to them, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of International Earth Day on April 22, 2020. The contest is presented by the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Contestants are asked to reflect upon what will our natural landscapes will look like in the next 50 years and what needs to happen to restore those that have been damaged or destroyed. Students who enter the contest are asked to interview someone over the age of 50 with whom they share a wahi pana or cherished landscape.

Department officials say that together, the student and elder are creating a written record for future generations.

Jeff Bagshaw, a DOFAW Outreach and Communications Specialist, based on Maui, is the Wahi Pana Essay Contest Coordinator. He said, “Ask an elder what native Hawaiian species they recall from their first experience in a place. Visit the place again today and see what’s changed over the decades. What will the next 50 years bring and what personal steps can the student take to change the future of their chosen wahi pana?”

Students are asked to write a 1,500-word (maximum of three pages) essay focusing on one of four ecosystem-categories: marine/coastal, stream/marsh, dry/leeward forests, or wet/windward forests.


One first and one second-place essay for each ecosystem, and for each of the four island counties (16 first-place and 16 second-place winners statewide) will be selected by judges who are professional writers or conservationists working on public and/or private lands.


The four first-place winners from each island will accompany conservationists for a day into remote areas or get behind the scenes tours where conservation work is being done. These places are usually inaccessible and could include:

Kaua‘i – fly into the Ku‘ia or Hono o na pali Natural Area Reserves
O‘ahu – journey into the Ka‘ala Natural Area Reserve in the Wai‘anae mountains
Maui Nui – fly into Hanawi or Nakula Natural Areas Reserves
Hawai‘i Island – fly into Pu‘u o umi Natural Area Reserve

Additionally, first and second place winners, as well as their families, are invited to a special hike and luncheon on each island. They may be asked to read a select passage from their essay on camera for a video production. Essays will also be published on DLNR/DOFAW websites as well as in print journals.


Winners will be announced on International Earth Day next year. The first-place excursion awards for each island will be scheduled to match students and special guests’ availability, as will the awards luncheon/hike.

Bagshaw said, “We believe Hawai‘i students and their kupuna have unique stories to share with the world, to help us all prepare for the future.”

Online applications and essays are due no later than Feb. 14, 2020.

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