Fresh Ihi Ihi population found at La`au Point

Hope Springs Eternal For Conservationists

Two small patches of endangered Ihi Ihi were discovered at La`au Point this weekend by Molokai husband and wife activists Walter and Loretta Ritte along with Scarlett Ritte, Walter’s sister. The finding of the rare fern adds ammunition to the Anti-development arsenal of tangible reasons why those activists oppose the Community-Based Master Land Use Plan(MLP), which includes the building of 200 luxury home lots at La`au Point.

Molokai Botanist Bill Garnett said the finding was encouraging but hardly momentous; the area is home to one of several historic population of the plant and it is expected it will turn up in many of those places after the long-awaited  next serious rainfall. Ihi Ihi, or Marsilea Villosa, reproduces through the spread of its spores, which can lay dormant for years, and which best thrive in sparsely shaded areas which experience cyclical flooding and drying.

The find may not be momentous to local biologists, but it is strategically important to defenders of the La`au Point area. Populations of the plant have been almost non-existent in the last decade because of the extended drought in West Molokai. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which placed the fern on the federal endangered species list in 1992, there are only thought to be two remaining populations of the plant on Molokai. Those two populations, along with one on Oahu, comprise the only naturally occurring areas of Ihi Ihi in the world.

Wildlife experts estimate that the plant would need to be growing in healthy, reproducing populations in at least six cites on at least two islands for it to be considered safe. The fern would then need to be protected from fire, invasive plant species, off-road vehicles, grazing animals, and interference with the area’s hydrology. Garnett says The Nature Conservancy has approved plans to allow him to re-introduce the plant to areas above Moomomi Beach, but he has not been granted funding for the endeavor as of yet.

Because of the plant’s rarity and its use in pre-natal care in traditional Hawaiian medicine, it is expected that the threat of its eradication by human encroachment will continue to fortify opponents to La`au development. The initial split of the Molokai community over the Molokai Land Trust’s formation and promises has eroded away to the point where a strong majority of island residents now stand in outright opposition of the MLP. This shift is well reflected in the recent Molokai EC board election, where Anti-Development candidates Bridget Mowat and Leila D Stone garnered roughly 68% of the ballots in a voter turnout which eclipsed Molokai’s participation in the US General Elections.

Because of the concrete reminder, provided by the Ritte’s discovering of the Ihi Ihi and the unknown potable water capacity of the island, of what is being lost with the paving of a habitat like La`au, the tide is starting to turn. Even members of the Molokai community who have supported the MLP in the past are beginning to see that alternatives to La`au development should be considered in order to give the plan a new ‘economic engine’ in order to realize the reopening of the Kaluako`i Hotel. It has become clear that the parceled land sales proposed for Molokai’s Southwest coast are not the best option for the community, and is contrary to their overall wishes.


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