Hawaii - Nature and Wildlife
Hawaii has a rich plant life that is the result of millions of years of isolation and remoteness. There are over 3,000 plants including ferns, trees and flowers that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. However, this remoteness has resulted in Hawaii laying claim to only two native mammals - the Hawaiian Monk Seal and the Hawaiian Hoary Bat. The isolation also means that native plants and those animals that were brought by explorers 1,500 years ago never had to develop natural defenses because for a long time, they had no competition. Now many are facing extinction at the hands of plants and animals that have been introduced.
Hawaii is home to the only tropical rainforest in the United States. There are approximately 48 different native Hawaiian forests with more than 175 species of trees inhabiting them. Ohla Lenua is Hawaii’s most abundant native tree with the Koa tree being the second most common. The official state flower is the yellow hibiscus, a flower that can grow up to a foot in diameter. There are five total species of hibiscus flowers throughout the islands making it a popular symbol of Hawaii.
Hawaii and its surrounding waters are home to a very diverse marine life. There are oveer 600 different species of exotic and colourful fish, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world. The state fish is the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a otherwise known as the Reef Triggerfish. Each autumn, approximately 2,000 - 5,000 humpback whales travel 3,000 miles from their Arctic homes to Hawaii’s tropical waters to mate and give birth. Maui is considered by many to be the best place to spot the whales particularly between November and February. Thirteen species of toothed dolphins also swim in Hawaii’s waters with spinner and bottlenosed dolphins being the most commonly spotted while forty different shark species exist in Hawaii with tiger, whitetip, reef, and hammerhead sharks being the most common. Snorkelers often report seeing green sea turtles who have nesting grounds along the coasts of the Hawaiian Islands. Finally, there is the Hawaiian Monk Seal, a very old mammal that many scientists believe has not evolved in fifteen million years. A native to Hawaii, these seals currently number only around 1,200 and are considered the most endangered marine mammal in the United States.
There are approximately 100 bird species in Hawaii many of which are endemic to the islands. Birds like Hawaiian and Laysan Ducks, the Hawaiian Petrel and the Gray-tailed Tattler are all native to Hawaii while the state bird is the highly endangered Nene (the Hawaiian goose). The Nene is found only on the islands of Maui, Kaua’i and Hawaii and is the rarest goose in the world. Another winged species endemic to Hawaii is the Hawaiian Hoary Bat. Despite being native to Hawaii, this bat is considered the most widespread bat in the continental USA.
Hawaii is known as the endangered species capital of the United States with more endangered species per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Hawaii has also lost more native species than anywhere else. As a result of these statistics, many people are working hard to conserve the beauty offered in the islands. Groups like The Nature Conservancy have set up projects throughout the Hawaiian Islands with the goal of not only protecting animals and landscape, but also educating the local population on conservation by placing them in control of many endeavours. Many areas have been given protected status and Hawaii is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which houses two of the most active volcanoes on the planet and Papahanaumokuakea, an isolated cluster of islands and atoll which have great cultural significance as that is the place where Hawaiians believe life originates and where spirits return to after death. With community driven projects around the state, the people of Hawaii look to be in a good position to preserve their beautiful islands.
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