David Boynton '63Guardian of the Koke'e Forest
A “B” student at Punahou who would rather have been in the ocean than in the classroom, David Boynton ’63 has gone on to become an educator and leading expert on the Koke‘e Forest, a talented nature photographer and author, and above all, an inspiration to the thousands of students and teachers who have visited Koke‘e Discovery Center (KDC) on Kaua‘i. This “average guy,” who used to swim, surf and party while at Punahou, has served as environmental resource teacher at KDC since its inception in 1994.
In David’s view, there is no better place to teach children about biodiversity, sustainability and environmental stewardship than in the lush, cool rainforest. “Koke’e is an area of peacefulness and beauty, the accessible center of an amazing wilderness area from Polihale State Park to Ha`ena State Park to Wai‘ale‘ale. This region has over 400 different native plants with Kalalau having the greatest concentration of ‘single-island endemics’ anywhere in the universe,” explains David. The Koke‘e area is also home to many dozens of endangered species including the puaiohi (small Kaua`i thrush) and koholapehu, a vining cousin of the silversword plant.
A typical day at the “office” (the Koke‘e Forest) might include a long hike that incorporates a service project to eradicate kahili ginger or some other invasive plant. Later in the day, they sometimes visit Koke‘e Natural History Museum, whose director is classmate Marsha Ogilvie Erickson. Evenings may include a starwatch, campfire, night hike or slide show. “I really enjoy being outdoors with the kids. My mentality is that of a ten-year-old but, unfortunately, it resides in a sixty-year-old body,” he jokes.
David believes that a very significant part of the educational experience at KDC is about Hawaiian values. “We focus on the Hawaiian context of kuleana, malama, kokua, laulima, ho‘ihi, lokahi, and pono,” he says. For three days, the children have the opportunity to live and practice these values in the solitude of the forest.
David’s teaching career began at Roosevelt High School in 1971. Later, he moved to Kaua‘i and taught at Waimea High for 18 years. From 1989 to 1993, he served as an environmental resource teacher focusing on a curriculum development project, during which time he lobbied heavily for building the KDC.
KDC is open to all schools and community groups, although it primarily serves Kauai’s public schools and focuses on fourth and fifth graders. A Punahou group led by PE teacher David Blanchette visited KDC on an environmental stewardship mission last summer, and in October 2006, Academy teacher Alex Selarque took the yearbook staff on a photography trip.
A talented photographer himself, David took the last photograph ever taken of the ‘o‘o‘a‘a in 1983, a single male tending an empty nest whose mate didn’t survive. David has been the primary photographer for seven books including "Kaua‘i Days." He has also authored two books, "Discover Hawaii’s Forests and Kilauea Point" and "Kauai’s National Wildlife Refuges."
Since 2002, David has worked with Ken Wood of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on surveying Hawaii’s smallest seabird, the ‘ake‘ake (band-rumped storm petrel). This bird, which weighs about an ounce, nests in the vertical cliffs of Na Pali and Waimea Canyon, but so far no one has found an active nest because they are so inaccessible. David and Ken have flown in by helicopter and camped in six remote Na Pali valleys, surveying plant life during the day and documenting the bird calls after sunset.
In 1992, David was honored by the Koke‘e Natural History Museum with the “One Person Can Make a Difference” award. “We can’t depend on government to do it all. Every one of us is that one person who can make a difference in keeping Hawai‘i, its environment, the very special world that it is,” says David. No one better embodies the essence of this award than David Boynton.
Editor's note: Shortly after this article was written, we learned that David had died in a hiking accident on Feb. 10, 2007, in Kauai. We are deeply saddened by this news and we send our sympathy to David's family.
By Shiyana Thenabadu