Last month, my partner and I vacationed in one of our favorite places: Hawai’i. We took our first trip to Kaua’i and I was stunned by the natural beauty of the island. Truly remarkable. I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of protected areas and the conservation happening on the island, in addition to the Na Pali coast and Koke’e and Waimea Canyon State Parks. Here are a few examples accompanied by some of my vacation photos 🙂 :
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge– Kilauea NWR is best known for the historic lighthouse that sits at the end of the point, but the real conservation value of this refuge are the cliffs that attract thousands of migrating and nesting seabirds. We saw many red-footed boobies building their nests in trees, landing on thin, wobbly tree limbs. We also saw Great Frigate birds, Laysan Albatrosses, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Newell’s Shearwaters and Red-tailed tropic birds. Volunteers regularly remove invasive plants from the cliffs and restore native plants to keep the bird habitat open for nesting. In addition to the cliffs, there is a large lava rock off the point, just across from the lighthouse, where they have dumped dirt in efforts to attract nesting birds. Realizing that the semi-permanent Shearwater nests (which are burrows in the ground) were collapsing in the fresh, decompacted dirt, the managers added pipes to form structured burrows and, according to the volunteers, the birds use the artificial nests successfully!
Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge: We stumbled on this place accidentally: as we got out of the car to take a photo of beautiful taro fields, a ranger promptly pulled up and said that we were not allowed to get out of the car along the road, unless we were residents (which we clearly were not). After she explained that it was a refuge and that there was a hike with parking a little ways down the road , we went to check it out. After discovering that it was a mosquito filled swamp area, we opted not to do the hike, but we managed to get a few good pictures of the birds- including the Nenes! Nenes are endemic to Hawai’i and are the Hawai’ian state bird. Nenes are the world’s rarest goose and are threatened by introduced predators and habitat destruction. Luckily, because of conservation efforts, including captive breeding, and habitat protection, like the Hanalei NWR, the Nenes are increasing on Kaua’i. There are some 45 additional bird species that use the Refuge, we saw Hawai’ian Coots, Hawai’ian Moorhen, Hawai’ian Stilts and a Black-Crowned Night Heron. Many of these birds use the wetland-like taro fields.
A’ole GMOs– Driving around Kaua’i, I noticed the many yard signs and bumper stickers that said things like “A’ole GMOs” or “Keep Kaua’i GMO free”. Doing a little more research, I discovered that Hawai’i has become a testing ground for GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), particularly genetically engineered (GE) crops by large corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta. Testing GMOs potentially brings great risk to the environmental and human health, as scientists are unsure about the effects of GMOs on natural plant communities, especially if GMOs breed with non-modified crops. The GMO testing also has brought more pesticide spraying to Hawai’i and the residents are no longer sitting by as their island becomes a testing ground. Hawai’i may well become the first state to pass required labeling of GMO foods with the likely soon-to-pass House Bill 174. Hawai’ians seem especially concerned with keeping their staple crop, taro, unmodified and free from the effects of GMOs. Hawai’ians consider taro as an ancestor and it is an integral part of their culture and family. Thus, any form of GE taro is currently banned.
Hawai’ian Monk Seal Conservation- Not only are monk seals extremely cute, but their conservation status represents the larger problem of ocean pollution. Hunting nearly killed-off the monk seals by the late 19th century and they are still declining due to a plethora of threats. One of the biggest threats to these critically endangered species is death by fishing gear. Monk seals easily become entangled in fishing debris such as nets and ropes that can strangle them to death or prevent them from eating. Monk seals can also be caught in active fishing nets as bycatch. While efforts to clean marine debris and working with fisherman to reduce bycatch can address thesethreats, monk seals are also threatened by behavioral disturbance (including abandoned pups) and disease caused by interaction with humans on beaches. Managers have addressed this threat by posting signs around Monk Seals whenever they come to shore and, in fact, there are signs at most beaches that can be put up as a seal comes to the shore. To learn more, check out this video on Monk Seal conservation.