Young conservationist embarks on mission to save Hawaiian monk seals

COAST CITIES — Six-year-old Connor Berryhill had an “ah-ha” moment last month when he and his parents visited his aunt on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. The trip included a visit to Kaua`i Monk Seal Watch Program, which provides environmental education about the Hawaiian monk seals, which are nearing extinction. The seals are known to native Hawaiians as Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or “dog that runs in rough water.”

“There are only 1,000 left,” Connor said. “People can protect them by not using nets.”

Connor’s mother is Lynel Berryhill.

Six-year-old Connor Berryhill uses a tool called a “grabber” at Moonlight Beach to demonstrate how to pick up fish nets and other trash which have contributed to the near extinction of the Hawaiian monk seals. He offers his demonstration to children with the hope that others will also become microactivists. Photo by Lillian Cox

“A lot of nets wash up on the beach,” she added. “Most beaches are pristine in Kaua’i but there is one beach where currents bring in fishing nets and trash.”

Another threat to Hawaiian monk seals is overfishing, she added.

The experience taught Connor a lesson, one that he brought back home. Since returning, he has volunteered at the San Elijo Lagoon, using a tool called a “grabber” to pick up plastic bottles, plastic bags, netting and other trash.

“Every time I see someone drop trash, I shout at them, ‘San Elijo Lagoon Litter Bug!’” he said, adamantly. Connor also rescued a juvenile raven that had been abandoned at the lagoon.

Connor has become what is known as a “microactivist,” someone who initiates a small action that, when combined with many other people doing the same small thing, produces a big result.

Today, he is eager to educate all interested children about how they can help protect the Hawaiian monk seals — all the way from California — by properly disposing of trash before it becomes a hazard to wildlife.

He also likes to share what he has learned about manners when encountering seals.

“Stay away, be quiet, and don’t walk between the seal and the ocean,” he said. “Seals need to rest during the day because they look for food at night. Also, predators come out at night.”

Connor’s mom says he has loved animals all his life, and doesn’t hesitate to rescue an animal when he can.

“I rescued Pokey, a red-eared slider (turtle) who was walking down the street,” he said. “He was feisty and gentle. I later released it in Jack’s Pond near our house.” More recently, he cared for a baby crow that Bella, his family’s mastiff dog, carried into the house in her mouth.

“The baby was all wet,” Connor said giggling. “I named it Squawk because it sounded like a radio.” Connor and his family fed the bird during the day. That evening three crows came into their backyard looking for the baby.

“We put him outside and the four of them lived in the bushes for the next few days until the baby could fly,” Lynel Berryhill added.

Connor also has a parakeet named Roboto and a conure bird named Ming-Ming who talks.

When they are in La Jolla or Oceanside harbor, Connor likes to snorkel and dive off his mother’s paddleboard. One day, he plans to be a certified scuba diver and professional underwater photographer.

To invite Connor to give his presentation, contact Lynel Berryhill at lynel@brownsafe.com. For more information about seals, including the Hawaiian monk seal, visit marinemammalcenter.org. For more information about microactivism, visit microactivist.com.

 

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