It was a typical Saturday for DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) reserve officer John Kahiapo.
At a back-to-school keiki fishing tournament at Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park, he was in his element talking with young fishers about pono practices, answering their questions about life in the ocean, and spreading the messages of conservation and protection of natural resources.
The Blue Light Tournament, organized by the Hawaii Police Dept., HI-PAL, DARE, and DOCARE, only accepted 25 participants this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions. These are the types of events you will find Kahiapo attending multiple times each year as a volunteer conservation officer.
By day, John is an outreach and education specialist for the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR). By night, on weekends, and on many holidays, he switches roles, puts on his DOCARE uniform, and backs up regular officers who patrol the vast expanses of the Big Island. His regular job and his volunteer job share a lot in common – they’re both focused on protecting what makes Hawaii and it’s natural and cultural resources precious and unique.
Kahiapo, who grew up in the Waimanalo Hawaiian Homestead, was grounded in local traditions and customs from the time he was born. He learned to catch and prepare fish from his father.
He joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1974 after graduating from Saint Louis School.His first duty station was at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaii Islands.
“This set the tone for his career path by teaching him to pursue activities that bring him joy,” said Kahiapo’s daughter, Shola Kahiapo-Trevino.
He spent a total of 36 years between active and reserve duty in the Coast Guard. In 1989 he received a degree in biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo and at the same time began working as a small boat harbor agent in East Hawaii. In 1992, he began his first stint as a volunteer DOCARE officer and six years later became a full-time regular officer. He went back to reserve duty in 2001 to begin full-time work at DAR.
Kahiapo was surprised midway through the tournament with the DLNR Citizen Conservationist Award.
“I’ve known John and have admired his dedication, passion, and selflessness for many years,” said DLNR First Deputy Robert Masuda, who presented the award. “Both his professional work and volunteerism have made him a role model for countless students and community members, who have had the pleasure of working with him and learning from him. Education, outreach, and enforcement are wrapped into one for John – a great example of doing what you love and loving what you do.”
“I can’t tell you how much we’ve relied on John to back up our regular officers,” said DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla. “He is always responsive and most importantly he is an outstanding example of a public servant. It would be easy for him to clock out after a day of work at his regular job…but John keeps sharing his wealth of knowledge with people of all ages and has devoted thousands of hours of his own time in his role as a reserve DOCARE officer.”
Kahiapo, ever humble, commented after receiving his framed certificate: “This all brings me joy, happiness, and pride.”