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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 12, 2007

David Boynton was nature buff

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

David Boynton

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LIHU'E, Kaua'i Noted wildlife photographer and educator David Boynton died in a fall Saturday, while hiking along a cliff trail to a favorite remote Na Pali Coast beach.

His body was found yesterday at the base of what firefighters said was a 300-foot cliff on the north face of the Miloli'i Valley wall. He had been hiking regularly down the rugged Na Pali cliffs to photograph sea turtles on Miloli'i beach, which is inaccessible during much of winter due to rough sea conditions.

He died in what his wife, Sue, said may have been his favorite spot, to which he frequently hiked, often alone.

"If there was a place in the world that he loved, it was Miloli'i. It was his peace, his essence," she said.

Friends launched a search after Boynton failed to return as scheduled Saturday after heading down the cliffs to the Miloli'i beach that morning. His body was recovered by Kaua'i Fire Department rescue specialists using a helicopter.

Boynton, 61, was born on O'ahu and had been a teacher for 36 years. He was a voice for the Hawaiian wilderness, a passionate conservationist and the window through which thousands of Hawai'i students learned about Hawaiian birds, plants, marine creatures, climate and much more.

He exercised his appreciation for natural Hawai'i through both his stunning photography and a groundbreaking nature education program he launched through the state Department of Education.

He was the major force behind the development of the Koke'e Discovery Center, a facility in Koke'e State Park where Hawai'i schoolchildren stay overnight and learn about the Hawaiian forest. He was the director.

One of his educational tools was an audio recording of the last known 'o'o 'a'a, an extinct gray and yellow Kaua'i forest bird that would sing its complex song over and over, a call for a mate.

"He was one of the last people to have seen the 'o'o bird," said Katie Cassell, Koke'e Resource Conservation Program director.

Every class that came through did a forest stewardship project, such as pulling weeds around endangered plants. They heard stories. And when hiking with Boynton, they walked with a science teacher who knew the Islands' natural history exceedingly well, and loved it, Cassell said.

"His lasting tribute is that he imparted to each generation of Kaua'i's schoolchildren knowledge of our unique natural resources, and at the same time, incentive to care for them," she said.

His photography was another vehicle for education.

His books included "Flowers: Images from Hawai'i's Gardens," with his wife; "Kaua'i Days"; and "Capturing Hawai'i: Kaua'i."

He was primary photographer and sometimes co-author of others including: "Ancient Place Names and their Stories"; "Spectacular Hawai'i"; "Kilauea Point and Kaua'i's National Wildlife Refuges"; and "The Garden Island, a Pictorial History of the Commerce and Work of the People."

Boynton in 2005 traveled with a group of teachers aboard the NOAA ship Hi'ialakai to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and spent several days on Nihoa.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.