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TV special hangs out with cliff-climbing botanists

WAIMEA CANYON — In some cases, Kaua‘i botanists are cliff-climbing conservationists, descending the near-vertical walls of Waimea Canyon to discover and harvest rare seeds from endangered plant life.

The nerve-jangling work is conducted by a team from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the Plant Extinction Prevention Program and the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Their work is the subject of a new DLNR documentary, “Cliff Dwellers of Kaua‘i,” premiering tonight on KHON2 at 7 p.m.

Botanical researchers first rappelled Kaua‘i’s cliffsides sometime in the 1980s, according to featured DOFAW zbotanist Adam Williams. He began descending the cliffs in 2015, for the rare dwarf iliau (Wilkesia hobdyi). Since then, it has become a regular part of his work.

“There are a lot of resources that go into even getting us out there, with flying helicopters to get out there,” Williams said. “It’s risky every time we’re on rope … we’re not going out there to play around.”

Williams and PEPP’s Scott Heintzman only make the drop after surveying the area with NTBG drone operator Ben Nyberg, whose unmanned craft can spy plants hidden from the clifftop.

The documentary’s depiction of a unique ecosystem on the brink may generate a sense of hopelessness, something addressed by the 30-minute TV special’s subjects.

But Williams, both on-camera and off, says he is buoyed by the victories along the way. He cites colleagues’ recent discovery of a possibly-extinct fern (Adenophorus periens) as an example.

“I mean, that’s huge, you know, doing something like that,” he said. “There’s a lot of plants that have gone extinct … something like that gives me a lot of hope.”

The documentary, which includes other botanists performing just as crucial, if less vertigo-inducing work, features music from Kawika Kahiapo, Dennis Kamakahi and Jack Johnson. It will be available to stream on Vimeo following its television premiere.

“Cliff Dwellers” will also air on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 8:30 p.m. on KHII, and on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 6:30 p.m. on Hawai‘i’s CW.

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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