Meet the Board
Julie Leialoha, Vice-President, Hawai‘i Representative
Ms. Leialoha has had an extensive career in natural resource management that began as an intern while still attending high school at the Kamehameha Schools in the mid-1970s. As an avid surfer and hiker, she managed to turn her love for the outdoors into a commitment to protect Hawai‘i’s environment. “My early intentions where to simply make a living hiking and camping so I could surf in isolated locations.” After being told that was not possible by parents, counselors, and friends, she turned her pipe dream into reality. Attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, she utilized her knowledge of the ocean to study marine biology where she focused on identifying marine invertebrates. “All life begins with the tiniest of creatures, and I became fascinated with the thousands of different types of organisms that inhabit our oceans.”
Upon completing her science degree Ms. Leialoha was recruited by NOAA’s Endangered Marine Mammals Program in Honolulu, where she ventured to Laysan Atoll and French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands long before they were designated as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. There she worked on recovering the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal – a conservation imperative she continues to support to this day.
Her career took a detour into managing native Hawaiian forest when she was recruited by Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park Resource Management Division’s iconic botanist and resource manager, Tim Tunison. “I couldn't figure out why he wanted me in the division, since I didn't know anything about plants. His response was, “If you can identify plankton, plants are a breeze.” It was during this period that Ms. Leialoha realized there was a lot more to management than just pulling weeds in the field, and she became active in local politics, focusing on issues pertaining to resource management, including an unsuccessful bid for Hawai‘i County Council on the Big Island of Hawai‘i where she resides. “I lost by 89 votes, can you believe that?” she laughs. She intended to run again in the next election, but fate took another turn as she was severely injured in a helicopter crash while working in the Manukā Natural Area Reserve. After 5 years of intense rehabilitation, Ms. Leialoha returned to what she loves – protecting Hawai‘i’s native resources. She currently manages the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve on the Big Island, a joint project between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
When CCH approached Ms. Leialoha about re-joining the board, she was more than enthusiastic. In the past, she served as CCH President for 3 years and currently serves as our Vice President after stepping down from the board for a year after serving two 3-year terms on the board. “I believe strongly in CCH. Though we are a relatively small organization, we play an important role in educating the public and government leaders on environmental issues, and speaking on behalf of Hawaiian wildlife. We have a good working relationship with many of our elected officials and non-government organizations. This will likely be a life long journey for me.”