The Hawaiian Islands, an ecological and cultural wonder, are viewed globally as a center of biocultural diversity. The Hawaiian Archipelago is the most remote island chain in the world — over the course of five million years of geological history, all forms of life traversed the large distances to this island chain by wave, wind, or wing. These colonizations resulted in the most remarkable examples of evolution through adaptive radiation known to science and over ten thousand native species, most of which are endemic and found nowhere else on earth.
The Hawaiian Islands support over 175 native tree species which make up 48 distinct types of native forest and woodlands. These forests provide critical habitat for native plants and animals, generate clean water, air, and healthy soils, control erosion, protect coral reefs, and mitigate climate change. Intimately known and cared for by diverse communities over the past millennium, native Hawaiian forests are both a long-lived foundation for Hawaiian Culture and a biocultural anchor for communities undergoing rapid global changes.
Hawaii’s landscapes, and the watersheds, forests and near-shore environments they contain, all require greatly enhanced stewardship in order to sustain the health, function, and remarkable beauty of these diverse systems. At stake are irreplaceable plant and animal species, goods and services provided to all of Hawaii’s citizens and institutions, and the lifeways and practices of a host-culture, which is rich with the wisdom of over a thousand years of ancient links to earth, sky, and ocean. This wisdom is an essential component of addressing threats to Hawaii’s biocultural diversity.
Native Hawaiians have historically safeguarded biodiversity and ecosystem services, sustainably supporting large populations through our ahupua‘a system of land management. With a strong ethic of stewardship woven into the fabric of our culture, spiritual practice, and economy, the Hawaiian way of life supports the vitality of native ecosystems. The most effective conservation solutions will integrate the Hawaiian stewardship ethic and embrace the complex biocultural relationships that define Hawai‘i, and encourage practices that support native biodiversity and the ecological processes that provide services such as clean water and air. By implementing measures bearing these attributes, Hawai‘i can become a global leader in biocultural conservation.