Kupuna Achiever Sam Gon brings science, conservation and culture together

Senior scientist and cultural advisor for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii

Sponsored by Arcadia Family of Companies

Dr. Samuel M. ʻOhukaniʻōhiʻa Gon III is a senior scientist and cultural advisor for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. As a kamaʻāina, a conservation biologist, and a Hawaiian cultural practitioner, he believes that a combination of conventional science and traditional Hawaiian knowledge, values and practices will allow Hawaii to thrive sustainably in a changing world. “I’ve trained long in both realms: western science and the traditional practice of oli (chant), which was the modicum of knowledge in pre-Western Hawaii,” said Gon. “Both provide us with great value in understanding our world and our place within it.”

Biocultural conservation is an important part of Gon’s work. “Biocultural competency is working knowledge and appreciation of the deep cultural significance tied to our native species and ecosystems, and held in Hawaiian oral traditions and generational knowledge passed down over the generations,” said Gon. “To be able to competently wield this approach can greatly augment the science-based process we use in conservation, expanding it to a knowledge-based process that takes into account not only the biological and ecological, but the traditional knowledge and cultural context of what we do. In doing so, we better involve human communities in our work and efforts, and create a stronger human connection to the realm of conservation. To truly succeed, we need societal support and involvement in conservation. In Hawaiʻi, the biocultural connections to environment are immensely powerful.”

Gon has some words of advice for others who might want to follow in his footsteps. “Be a lifetime learner, and be a generalist: be interested in everything around you, and don’t fall into the trap of knowing nothing about the world except that which you think is useful to you. When I was an undergrad, I chose zoology as a major, but I took more botany courses than zoology, because in ecology, animals depend on plants, and to understand animals, you have to understand everything important to them in their environment. You can extend that truth to ourselves on our planet. Most of our trouble in modern times has come from lack of understanding the consequences of our actions until it is too late.”

About Sam Gon:
Part of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii staff for over 30 years, Gon has brought his expertise to the organization in a variety of capacities. As the Ecologist for the Hawaii Natural Heritage Program of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i from 1986 – 1999, he conducted biological inventories and produced biological reports and management recommendations for The Conservancy, partner federal, state, and local agencies, and for private landowners and organizations. As the coordinator for the Hawai’i Natural Heritage Program from 1992 to 1994, Sam managed a staff of 15 and an annual budget of over $1 million, conducting biological inventories across the archipelago. As Director of Science he guided the science behind the vision and operations of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. In his current role as Senior Scientist and Cultural Advisor, Sam maintains his science guidance, and adds his cultural expertise to enhance the mission of The Conservancy.

Sam has 40 years of experience in Hawaiian ecology. This experience includes biological inventories and research, field ecology, entomology, arachnology, ethology, natural community classification, ecological modeling, climate change vulnerability analysis, ecological landscape change, and biological database management. He also is versed in Hawaiian culture, history, and language. Sam is instrumental in many facets of the Conservancy’s work. His knowledge of Hawaiian culture and history are an important asset when working with local communities and land management agencies. He has applied his island conservation expertise in cooperative projects and workshops in the Galapagos Islands, the Philippines, Pohnpei, Palau, Fiji,  Jamaica, Okinawa, Amazonia, and Rapanui. As an excellent public speaker, Sam often lends his knowledge to conservation agencies, educational institutions, community groups, donors, and important visitors. He has presented on Hawaiian ecosystems and culture at the Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C., at The Dalem Ethnological Museum in Berlin, Germany (2011), at the National Museum of Natural History (2012) and the Museum of World Culture (2014) in Paris, France.

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