The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i and Palmyra presented the Kāko‘o ‘Āina Award to David Okita, a pilot who has been working with the organization to support conservation of Hawai‘i Island’s watersheds for four decades.
Having been involved in nearly every conservation project on the island of Hawai‘i during his career, Okita has flown researchers and land managers in and out of remote valleys and rainforests; piloted surveys of ungulates and spotted invasive plants and animals in places they did not belong; delivered materials to build hundreds of miles of fences protecting endangered plants and forested watersheds; and rescued lost hikers from these isolated places.
In addition, land managers have relied heavily on Okita for fighting wildfires.
“It is our sincere honor to recognize and celebrate Dave, who has been a trusted and dedicated partner to many who mālama ‘āina,” said Ulalia Woodside Lee, the executive director of The Nature Conservancy’s Hawai‘i and Palmyra Program. “Dave’s deep knowledge of landscapes and ecosystems coupled with his dedication to Hawai‘i have made an immeasurable contribution to conservation.”
Due to the nature of his job as a helicopter pilot, Okita has been able to detect patterns across the landscape such as decline in native canopy cover and increase in problematic weed infestations. After axis deer were illegally introduced to Hawaiʻi Island in 2009, he piloted the response team into position to detect and remove them in the early 2010s.
Established in 2006, The Nature Conservancy’s Kākoʻo ʻĀina award honors groups and individuals who have provided significant and long-standing support for conservation in Hawai‘i. Kāko‘o ‘Āina translates to “one who supports the land.”
Previous Kāko‘o ‘Āina awards have been presented on Hawaiʻi Island in 2006 to Jack Jeffrey, in 2012 to Bill Gilmartin, and in 2015 to Kuʻulei Keakealani, Leinaʻala Keakealani Lightner, and Hannah Springer.
The Kākoʻo ʻĀina award presentation included a koʻokoʻo, or staff, hand-carved by master Hawaiian woodworker Kunāne Wooton, and an oli, or chant, composed by The Nature Conservancy staff.