Mason Myrmo: A modern-day Renaissance man - West Hawaii Today

2022-09-19 04:53:39 By : Ms. Coco Liu

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022 | Today's Paper | 81.149°

Pua kala is a native Hawaiian poppy that Mason often uses in his planting projects.

Mason created a bed with rocks and mulch for native plants at the Aquatic Life Divers dock. (Mason Myrmo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Native plants make attractive potted plants. (Photos by Mason Myrmo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Mason shakas his team on the Kohanaiki Beach Park project. Reggie Lee, Karen Eoff and Lanakila Ynigues all participated. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

A modern-day Renaissance man would have a wide range of knowledge and talents in important areas. One living here in Hawaii, might be knowledgeable about ways to address the issues arising from climate change in our island home. He might also have skills that could help preserve and restore areas in harm’s way. A lot of knowledge and talent would be needed. After meeting Mason Myrmo, I thought he might qualify as a local Renaissance man.

A modern-day Renaissance man would have a wide range of knowledge and talents in important areas. One living here in Hawaii, might be knowledgeable about ways to address the issues arising from climate change in our island home. He might also have skills that could help preserve and restore areas in harm’s way. A lot of knowledge and talent would be needed. After meeting Mason Myrmo, I thought he might qualify as a local Renaissance man.

When I asked Mason what early event might have started him on his path to study land and sea, he was quick to describe an experience he had when he was about eight years old on a family trip to Mexico.

“I was standing in the waves on the beach at night and my footprints were glowing in the dark. The dark waves were also glowing,” he reported.

Following his curiosity about the glowing ocean, he learned about bioluminescence and the red tide algae bloom that triggered this phenomenon. The massive algae bloom he learned was triggered by the runoff of agricultural chemicals into the ocean.

In another formative experience, he learned about growing and maintaining dry land plants while working on his brother’s succulent and cactus collection in Honolulu.

A few years later, while he was studying shiatsu and natural medicine, he worked at a local health food store. There he began to learn the value of organic farming. He not only realized that eating organically grown food could improve our health but that organic agriculture could also improve the health of the land and the sea. Naturally, he began working on local organic farms. He accredits much of his early learning from his time managing Ginger Hill farm in Kealakekua and volunteering at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden.

In 2014, Mason got a job as a naturalist traveling with a team of marine biologists to the island nation of Vanuatu. Their team sailed throughout the archipelago to help mitigate damage to their coral reefs and the subsequently dwindling fish populations. Mason worked with the villagers to help them return to previously sustainable agricultural practices that greatly reduced the runoff that was killing the coral. They used mulch and bio-char and planted nitrogen fixing ground covers for fertility and introduced vetiver grass for erosion control.

“I assisted them in implementing agroforestry systems where deforestation had caused major erosion issues, and aided in crop selection and cultivation methods that didn’t require chemical inputs,” he reported.

During the year that Mason spent working with villagers, they were able to revive some of their old sustainable agricultural and fishing practices. That meant they could grow healthy food without the expense of foreign inputs while improving the health of the land and the people as well.

The Vanuatu team also worked at reef restoration, helping revive sustainable fishing practices among the villages, including the old method of establishing “tabu” fishing areas to allow fish replenishment. The result of implementing these marine protected areas showed measurable reef improvement and an increase in the overall fish population and catch.

Mason came away from that experience with a passion to continue that kind of work here in Hawaii.

He described his passion by saying, “I feel dedicated to helping people in Hawaii interact with their environment in a way that benefits our natural ecosystem while strengthening our food security.”

Mason leased an organic farm in Hawi upon his return to Big Island. His interest in cultivating native Hawaiian plants to help save our shoreline took him off the farm where he began working with a local non-profit Protect Kohanaiki Ohana at ‘O’oma and Kohanaiki beach parks. At this point he started a collection of native coastal and dry-forest plants.

He soon became involved in planting projects and found that he needed to find and propagate additional native species to serve the projects’ goals. His collection of native coastal and dry forest plants continues to grow to the point that he now actively seeking space to establish a working native plant nursery to better serve West Hawaii.

At Kohanaiki Beach Park Mason worked with Gary Eoff and Reggie Lee building a native and canoe plant garden. Mason was instrumental in selecting plants that would help mitigate the damage caused by the impending sea level rise. They chose dwarf Samoan coconuts for their strong root systems and low maintenance. They also planted several native ground covers like pohuehue, nehe, pa’uohi’iaka, and ‘ilima papa to help prevent erosion during storm surges. Native shrubs and trees like maiapilo, hinahina ku kahakai, ‘ohai and naio and were also planted to help mitigate erosion while restoring native habitat.

While restoring the beach park, Mason began to couple his work on the land with an interest in our Hawaiian coral reefs. He soon started observing and photographing the reefs at O’oma and Kohanaiki. The owner of Aquatic Life Divers, Neil Forsberg was interested in his work and they quickly became friends. They worked at creating a focus on conservation within the dive company in order to implement several conservation efforts. Mapping the reefs and making 3D photogrammetry models of those off Kohanaiki and O’oma was an important part of this work. Mason now works with Aquatic Life Divers on several conservation projects, including monitoring the water in Honokohau harbor in an effort to improve the water quality.

Mason is a fellow who seems to comfortably wear many hats. He continues his restoration work on land as well at sea. With Neil’s support the Aquatic Life Divers team took on a project of removing invasive weeds from the area around the Aquatic Life Divers’ dock. The project began in 2021 and is now complete with the area landscaped with native plants suitable for the site like pua kala, alahe’e, ‘ihi, wiliwili, ‘ulei, ‘a’ali’i, ‘akulikuli, ‘ae’ae, na’u and ma’o. All nestled in a mulch covered bed surrounded by rocks. The dock area also boasts a stunning array of potted native plants.

Mason says, “I want to show people how attractive native plants are as container plants”.

Over the years, Mason has worked designing and installing public and commercial native plant landscapes, as well as pollinator gardens and edible landscapes. His knowledge in permaculture and Polynesian agricultural design has helped him establish beautiful and functional landscapes for clients. Mason delights in projects from small backyard farms to low input and high yielding agroforestry designs to full scale regenerative agriculture systems.

His first love however is protecting and restoring coastal and near shore environments … our beaches and our reefs. These areas are home to unique ecosystems that he has spent many years studying.

Development coupled with climate change is creating stressors that are rapidly changing this environment. Rising sea levels and storm surges pose severe threats to our shoreline as well as our reefs. Mason has found that restoring native plants to the area can help stabilize our beaches and protect shoreline parks and coral reefs.

Mason, as Wa’a Mala LLC, works to help restore these coastal habitats and perpetuate them for the future. This and his many other missions and projects on land and sea clearly qualify him as a Renaissance man for Hawaii. For more on his work or to contact him, go to his website at waamala.org.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.

Every Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers can help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Info: Visit www.amygreenwell.garden/get-involved/volunteer-1/.

Tuesday: “Coffee Leaf Rust Management & Cafedak Biostimulant Workshop” 10 to 11:30 a.m. Online or in person at the Kona Cooperative Extension Service in Kainaliu. Offered in Spanish on Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Info/register: (808)322-4892.

March 5: “Sprayer Calibration Field Day” from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Kona Research Station in Kealakekua. Also in Spanish on March 4 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Learn ways to calibrate hand held sprayers. Free. Registration required. Call Matt at (808) 322-0164 for information or to register.

Online video: “Virtual Invasive Pest Mini-Conference” Covering parasitic wasps, Avocado Lace Bug, Coffee Leaf Rust, and more. If you missed the meeting here is a link to the mini-conference video: https://vimeo.com/670939003/64c3463fea. Next Mini-conference is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, 2022 at 9:30 a.m.

Farmer Direct Markets (check websites for the latest hours and online markets)

Wednesday: “Ho’oulu Farmers Market” at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

Information on their online market: keauhoufarmersmarket.com/onlinemarket

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

“Waimea Town Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea

“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Waimea middle and elementary school playground

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

“Hāmākua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hwy 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a

Anytime: konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu; Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu at (808) 322-4893.