Hawaii’s incredible native diversity is a world renowned biological treasure, but in recent decades, our state has become the “extinction capital of the world.” Hawai‘i is home to the largest number of federally listed threatened or endangered plant and animal species in the United States. Some 343 listed plant and 394 listed animal species occur as dwindling populations in isolated refugia, and face a growing list of precarious threats.
The socio-political, economic, demographic, and agricultural changes that have characterized the last two centuries have greatly accelerated the loss of native habitat and associated species, invasion by non-native invasive species, novel disturbances such as fire and climate change, and the degradation of traditional connections linking people to landscapes. Within the lifetimes of our children, Hawai‘i may lose most of her remaining native forests, impacting native species, ecosystem services, and traditional cultural practices that those native forests support.
The ramifications of this ecological loss extend beyond that of endangered species to affect the people of Hawai‘i directly. Degradation of the integrity, vitality, and wholeness of native ecosystems diminishes our state’s cultural diversity and richness. Because of the deep human relationships and history defining Hawaiian landscapes and seascapes, loss of native ecosystems compromises the identity and well being of all of Hawaii’s citizens.
As we face the environmental challenges of the twenty-first century that have correlated to a declining connection to the land, Native Hawaiian examples of resource stewardship provide important insights and potential solutions. There is hope to protect what remains, but our time is running out.
Strawberry Guava (Psidium cattleianum), introduced in the early 1800s, has aggressively invaded vast expanses of ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua forests, spanning hundreds of thousands of acres. This invasive species competes with native flora, altering the ecological balance. Its rapid proliferation hinders the growth of ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua, a crucial part of Hawai‘i's forest ecosystems. The domino effect of Strawberry Guava invasion threatens not only the biodiversity but also the cultural heritage tied to native forests. Addressing the challenges posed by Strawberry Guava is paramount in our quest to conserve the native ecosystems and the rich biocultural diversity of Hawai‘i.
Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, triggered by the fungus Ceratocytis fimbriata, has besieged approximately 34,000 acres on Hawai‘i Island, sounding a high alert. Officials underline its potential to wreak havoc on ʻŌhiʻa forests. This fungal menace jeopardizes the health and longevity of ʻŌhiʻa trees, a linchpin in Hawai‘i's ecological and cultural tapestry. The ramifications extend beyond the forests, impacting the intricate web of life they support. Mitigating the threats posed by Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death is crucial in preserving the vitality of Hawai‘i’s native forests and the myriad lifeforms they nurture.
Spanning over a million acres across the Hawaiian Islands, the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua forests are a sanctuary for a plethora of native bird and insect species, offering sustenance and shelter. Besides being a reservoir of valuable timber, these forests play a pivotal role in supporting local honey production. Their existence is intertwined with Hawaii’s watershed cycles, underlining their significance in maintaining ecological balance. The ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua forests are not merely a lush expanse, but a life-support system, nurturing an intricate network of biotic interactions and ensuring environmental sustainability.
The ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua, a cornerstone of Hawaii's host culture and a bedrock of its unique ecosystems, faces a grim fate, vanishing swiftly from lowland regions and nearing extinction across its extensive range. Our mission confronts the peril looming over Hawaii’s forests through a dynamic strategy that reveres our historical roots while paving the path towards a flourishing tomorrow. Through vigilant preservation efforts, we aim to turn the tide, ensuring the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua continues to thrive, encapsulating the essence of Hawaii's natural and cultural legacy.
The ‘I‘iwi, with its long, curved bill, intricately adapted to the ʻŌhi‘a Lehua blossom, faces threats from habitat loss, climate change, and mosquito-borne diseases like avian malaria and avian pox. This bird, nesting in the ʻŌhi‘a's branches, plays a key role as a pollinator, signifying a profound mutualism. The survival of ‘I‘iwi and ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua is intertwined, showcasing a delicate ecological balance. Our mission encompasses safeguarding this symbiotic relationship, essential for preserving the rich tapestry of Hawaii’s biodiversity.