Conservation and tradition to save Hawaiian ecosystem
In Hawaiian legend, Kaena Point on the western-most tip of Oahu island is the jumping off point of souls travelling to the afterlife. The area is of deep spiritual significance in local culture.Inga Vesper
The sand dunes of Kaena Point are an important resting place for monk seals and a breeding ground for many types of sea birds. But until their protection began in 1983, they were also a popular driving space for quad bikers.Inga Vesper
Samuel Gon works as a scientist and cultural adviser at the NGO Nature Conservancy in Hawaii. His goal is to combine the islands traditional knowledge with modern technologies to improve and guide conservation efforts.Inga Vesper
The dunes around Kaena Point would lose six feet of sand every five years due to quad biking. Now, an iron fence that digs deep into the ground keeps out bikes, as well as animals that prey on the eggs and hatchlings of sea birds.Inga Vesper
A baby shearwater in its dug-out. When the reserve was established in 1983, not a single nesting pair lived at Kaena point. Now, there are a few thousand.Inga Vesper
Dotted around the reserve are traps to catch animals that prey on shearwater eggs and babies. The ground-nesting birds are easily caught by introduced predators such as cats, mice and mongoose.Inga Vesper
This is Oahus highest mountain, Kaala believed to be the home of the hula goddess Laka. Hawaiian bog forest still grows here, but has disappeared from the lower regions. Bog forest retains water and is crucial for the islands freshwater supply.Inga Vesper
Each new hatchling in the forest is carefully monitored. Gon says that Hawaiis traditional songs and stories hold a wealth of information about the historic composition of the islands flora and fauna, which scientists can use in their restoration efforts.Inga Vesper
Traditionally, only healers and spiritual leaders climbed the mountains to harvest medical plants from the bog forest or make offerings. Now, around 15-20 hikers reach the fragile ecosystem every week. Gons goal is to protect sacred natural sites without preventing people from enjoying their beauty and significance.Inga Vesper
This is Hawaiian mistletoe. Many of the countrys plants have evolved to drop their thorns and poison defenses because, historically, the islands had very few predators and dangerous beetles. Invasive species now find these plants an easy target.Inga Vesper
Ohia is one of the islands most sacred trees and features in many stories and sayings. On Oahu island the plant is being threatened by an invasive guava, and on Big Island a mutated fungus is devastating Ohia trees. Conserving the plant is crucial for Hawaiians to preserve both nature and culture.Inga Vesper
Tourism, industrial activity and modern recreation have since depleted Hawaii’s natural ecosystem and introduced invasive species that have caused severe damage. And along with indigenous plants and animals, the country risks losing local knowledge and customs.
Now, conservationists are teaming up with spiritual leaders to save Hawaii’s nature and culture. In many places where such work has taken place, rare species are thriving and fragile ecosystems, such as ancient cloud forests, are stabilising.
For this slideshow, SciDev.Net travelled to two important natural and cultural protection sites on the island of O’ahu: the sand dunes of Ka’ena Point, and the bog forest high on Mount Ka’ala.
The visit was guided by Samuel Okukani’ohi’a Gon, a senior scientist at Hawaii’s Nature Conservacy, and a Kahuna Kakalaleo, a spiritual chanter of traditional Hawaii.