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Christine Zalewski and Martin Kossoff

November 27, 2018
  • Dr. Christine Zalewski and Mr. Martin Kossoff


Dr. Christine Zalewski’s love for the ocean goes back generations.

“My grandmother taught me to love and respect the ocean,” she says. “Ever since then, I’ve spent my life trying to be as close to tropical waters as possible.”

This passion eventually led Christine and her husband Martin, to buy a home on the Big Island of Hawai‘i where they’ve been visiting and snorkeling for almost 30 years. Over time, they’ve seen the coral reefs they love devastated by climate change and increased human activity.

Christine has been particularly heartbroken by the loss. “Watching the large coral heads that had been my landmarks on the reef turn to rubble felt like losing old friends, one after another.”

Even as she watched her beloved coral degrade, however, she also saw reason to hope.

“Through this entire period, I saw one woman at Kahala‘u Beach Park work tirelessly, day after day, to launch and grow a grass-roots program to protect its reef through education, research, and advocacy. When I saw the tangible difference she was making in improving the health of the bay, I realized that the decline wasn’t inevitable— that individuals could make a difference, even in face of enormous obstacles. Cindi Punihaole, founder of the Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center, was my initial call-to-action.  Meeting Ruth Gates was the catalyst for everything I did next.”

In October of 2017, Christine and Martin visited the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) after doing some research on who in Hawai‘i shared their commitment to advance the preservation of coral reefs. They met Ruth Gates and heard about her research and work on super corals, as well as her ambitions for the institute.

“We were absolutely blessed to talk story with Ruth Gates and hear her vision for HIMB,” says Christine. “It was straight-forward, actionable, and compelling.  Ruth was such a gifted communicator that I could actually see the finished product in my mind— it was fabulous and it deserves to be a reality.”

As a result of that conversation, Christine and Martin decided to change course.  “I had originally wanted to create an education/awareness program focusing on the Hawaiian day octopus, but after seeing Ruth’s vision, I took on the octopus project myself through Silver Spiral Seas, in the form of OCTOROCK on the Big Island,” says Christine, and instead they made a donation in the form of seed money to the HIMB Director’s fund to launch a capital fundraising effort to raise the profile of the institute as a whole.

They hope their gift will be used to inspire an even larger circle of donors to do what they can to make difference in the preservation of our precious marine environments.

Ultimately, Chris and Marty hope their gift will help future directors of HIMB realize the vision Ruth leaves as her legacy.

“We’d like to see HIMB grow into Ruth’s vision. We’d like to see a community of benefactors work together to reinforce and expand the infrastructure on Coconut Island. We’d like to see the remarkable ‘ohana of HIMB scientists be given every ounce of support possible to help keep our oceans alive for future generations."

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