The Life of the Land
Part 4 of 7
By G.T. Larson
All the last minute preparations have been made; finally, the departure time arrives. The flight across the Pacific is long and uneventful. At last, small dots appear on the horizon. As the final approach is made, the view of the islands is breathtaking. Touchdown is achieved approximately 36 hours from the time of departure. 36 hours you say?! Where was that jet from! The flight described was not from LA or New York but from Alaska. And it wasn’t a huge jet, but a medium sized bird called the Kolea (Pacific Golden Plover). They began arriving for their winter stay in late summer. They have been repeating this cycle for millennia, long before even the Polynesian explorers first arrived.
The means by which many of our endemic (native to one area exclusively) and indigenous (native to a particular area as well as a wider range) species came to our islands is left somewhat to speculation. Many obviously flew here. Some may have floated here on flotsam. Whatever the means, life came to our islands. Many established themselves and flourished.
The forests of Molokai once echoed with the lovely songs of many unique and beautiful birds. Some, such as the `Apapane and Amakiki can still be seen and heard in whatʼs left of our native forests. Many more, such as the Black Mamo and `Akialoa, have been permanently silenced from the forest of their ancestors. Evidence suggests that 40 or more species became extinct after colonization by the early Polynesians, and another 23 at least have been lost since Western contact.
To study the history of Hawaiian wildlife is to study the change of the natural world by man. In many instances in the past, we have ravaged the land for monetary gain, such as the rampant clear cutting of Molokai’s native rainforest in the nineteenth century to run cattle. In others, we have inadvertently caused great damage – in some cases, irreparable damage – to the life of the land for vain glory such as feather capes for kings, rare coral jewelry, and endemic tree snail shell collections that sometimes numbered in the tens of thousands per collector. This interaction with humankind will be look at further in a future article.
We have a solemn obligation to protect and preserve the beauty around us. As you travel, work, or play, notice the real world around you. Man has created an amazing artificial environment which he even has the capability of having beamed into his home 24/7, but nature surrounds us with sights, sounds and smells guaranteed to soothe the nerves and calm the spirit. Flowers are not beautiful just for bees, birds and butterflies. The calming call of the ocean is not just for the `Opihi and `Iwa (Frigate Bird). Man can see more colors, hear more sounds and smell more smells than any one creature on earth. Nature speaks to our senses unceasingly, may we each give it a listen.