Hawai‘i’s The Trust for Public Land’s Lea Hong

Preserved O‘ahu coastlines
lea hong stands on the rocky shoreline of kawela bay, which she helped preserve.
Photo: Aaron Yoshino 


Growing up in Wahiawā, Lea Hong’s playground was the North Shore. She rarely ventured into town and never, ever went as far as Sandy Beach.


Yet, as the director of the Hawaiian Islands Program for The Trust for Public Land, Hong, 50, has helped communities across O‘ahu preserve hundreds of acres of wild coastline from development in 2015 alone.


In October, the trust secured $2.5 million from the U.S. Army to complete a historic agreement to conserve 630 acres of untamed, windswept shoreline from Kawela Bay to Kahuku Point. Approved plans had called for five new hotels, thousands of resort residences and retail shops. Two months later, the organization helped a community-driven effort to save 182 acres of the Ka Iwi Coast from turning into a golf school or vacation subdivision. The Trust partnered with the Livable Hawai‘i Kai Hui/Ka Iwi Coalition to raise $500,000 in private donations and helped secure $1 million from the State Legacy Land Conservation Program and another $2.5 million from the city’s Clean Water & Natural Lands Fund to purchase the land for conservation.


Hong’s conservation work in 2015 didn’t stop on O‘ahu. In December, the trust partnered with Aloha Kuamo‘o ‘Āina to acquire the ancient and culturally significant Kuamo‘o battlefield and burial grounds on Hawai‘i Island, just south of Kona. It took two years and $4.25 million to protect this 47-acre property, which includes burial mounds, shrines, home sites, farming areas, heiau and a section of the Ala Nahakai National Historic Trail.


“She’s got a closing instinct that you need to get deals done,” says Suzanne Case, who has worked with Hong as the chairperson of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and during her 28-year stint with The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. “And she has the ability to work in very large, complex transactions with federal agencies, the state and county, and private landowners. … I think the conservation protection community in Hawai‘i works really well together, and she’s a big part of that.”


Colleagues point to Hong’s perseverance and strong connection to the land and the people who love it as reasons for her success.


“It’s really not just me,” Hong says. “It’s the community. They have such a love and appreciation for the land in their own way. The stories may be similar, but the land and the way people experience that land is always unique.”