News Release

Public-private partnership to save the О̄hi'a tree, the cornerstone tree species of Hawai'i

Business Announcement

Conservation X Labs

О̄hi'a Tree

image: Close-up of an О̄hi'a tree, a native species in Hawai'i view more 

Credit: Jamie Reaser

Washington, DC (September 5, 2018) -- Conservation X Labs, a Washington D.C.-based technology social enterprise, has partnered with U.S. Department of the Interior offices and agencies to identify and develop solutions to detect and prevent the spread of invasive fungi causing the phenomenon known as Rapid Ohia Death (ROD) on the Hawaiian islands.

The partnership is calling on the broader scientific and technology community to help solve the problem. "Our goal is to use the best of human ingenuity to identify technological solutions that can save part of Hawai'i's beauty. This is why we look to engage innovative thinkers within other advanced technology fields through this challenge prize", said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs, "We don't have to accept ohia's extinction."

As a first step in this public-private partnership, Conservation X Labs is seeking applicants for the Ohia Challenge from September 5th, 2018 through February 1, 2019. Innovative thinkers who may have solutions to help save the ohia are encouraged to apply to the Challenge for a chance at winning up to $70,000. The Ohia Challenge seeks solutions and tools to identify infected trees early enough to minimize the spread, with the goal of saving Hawai'i's iconic ohia tree. Selected solutions may have the opportunity to be tested and deployed in Hawai'i. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, and National Invasive Species Council (NISC) Secretariat have partnered with Conservation X Labs to provide the $70,000 prize purse.

Conservation X Labs will host promising ideas and solutions on its signature digital platform, the Digital Makerspace, to develop solutions to the Ohia Challenge by engaging a broader community of solvers. The Digital Makerspace is a platform where science, entrepreneurship, and technology communities come together to start projects and co-create tech-enabled solutions to conservation problems. On the Ohia Challenge page, anyone can join the community, engage a wide range of experts and thought leaders, and create a project to save the ohia.

Named after a Hawaiian legend that tells of the love and separation of the young couple Ohia and Lehua, the ohia tree (Metrosideros polymorpha) is a critical endemic tree species with significant cultural and economic value. The legend tells the story of the goddess Pele who, jealous of the young couple's love, turned the warrior Ohia into a tree and Lehua into the tree's flower. If you pluck the red lehua blossoms of the tree, legend says, the lovers' tears fill the sky with rain as they are separated again.

Today, the tears of many others are being shed over the future of the ohia tree because it is threatened by microscopic fungi that recently invaded the islands of Kaua'i and Hawai'i. These invasive fungi, Ceratocystis huliohia and Ceratocystis lukuohia, are responsible for ROD. Since 2014 when first identified, the fungi have infected thousands of acres of forest and, if unstopped, could irreversibly change Hawai'i's ecosystems and culture by eliminating the beloved ohia.

The needs are known: identify trees that have been infected with the Ceratocystis huliohia and Ceratocystis lukuohia fungi before they die and prevent the spread of the fungi from infecting new trees. Conservation X Labs and the Department of Interior are committed to identifying a technique to detect infected trees and ultimately eliminate the pathogens in Hawai'i's forests. While the needs and goals are clear, how to achieve rapid detection and containment is not. That is why the partners have turned to a global community of solvers in search of new solutions. The Ohia Challenge seeks unconventional, creative approaches to detecting these fungal pathways to address ROD before it threatens the extinction of the ohia tree.


Any individual or organization that is interested in joining the coalition to save the ohia and protect Hawai'i's natural heritage can visit for complete information about the Ohia Challenge competition rules and instructions on how to submit an application. Contact with any partnership or press inquiries.

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