Rockjumper Tours

aba events

The American Galapagos

The ABA can begin to correct its glaring omission (or commission) by placing the Hawai’ian chain where it has always belonged, in America. Birders can begin to bring attention to the plight of Hawai’ian endemics by highlighting them through their recreation and ticking them off their lists. Any attention (even listing) is better than no attention at all. Without attention, without interest, Hawai’i and its spectacular biodiversity, its life, will continue to bleed away.

Sunset Beach by Ted Lee Eubanks

 

Yesterday I received the periodic Cornell Lab e-newsletter. Among the routine (backyard birds, Cornell Lab’s new Facebook page) I noticed an article about the largest albatross colony in the world. The article, by Cliff Beitell, detailed the seabird nesting on Midway Island, one of the Hawai’ian chain. Cliff also made the following observation:

These mere specks (the Leeward Islands) once were the Hawaiian Islands, formed over the same volcanic hotspot that created the big islands of today. Some were as large as the big islands before erosion and subsidence took their toll. They are remnants, too, in terms of wildlife, a reminder that abundant, unwary wildlife characterized not just the Galápagos Islands but the whole Pacific Ocean before the arrival of humans and introduced predators. The Leewards are America’s Galápagos, its great ocean park.

Cliff understates the uniqueness of the entire Hawai’ian chain. Why limit the analogy to the Leewards? Consider Hawai’ian endemism.  Approximately 21,383 species have been recorded from the Hawai’ian Islands and surrounding waters. Of these, 8,759 are endemic to the Hawai’ian Islands. The Hawai’ian endemics comprise a significant portion of America’s biodiversity. Hawai’i is also the most vulnerable of the American states to outside invasions from exotics, with serious (and continuing) impacts from introduced vertebrates, invertebrates, diseases (avian malaria, for starters), and flowering plants.

Megalagrion blackburni, Akaka Falls, Hawaii, 20 July 2002 by Ted Lee Eubanks

Consider this damselfly, Megalagrion blackburni. There are 26 species in the Megalagrion, all endemic to the Hawai’ian islands. All are thought to have arisen from a common ancestor, and many are currently threatened by habitat loss and the introduction of non-native fish. Here is a list of the Hawai’ian species of greatest conservation need. 

  • Over a span of about 70 million years, plants and animals colonized Hawai’i at the rate of roughly one every 70,000 years.
  • According to the NPS, over 90 percent of Hawai’i’s native flora and fauna is endemic – found nowhere else on earth. The island’s 100 endemic land birds evolved from as few as 20 original ancestors; a thousand kinds of flowering plants evolved from 272 colonizers; over 1,000 mollusks evolved from at least 22 immigrants; and about 10,000 insects and spider species evolved from 350 to 400 precursors.
  • There are 71 known taxa of endemic Hawai’ian birds, of which 23 are extinct and 30 of the remaining 48 species and subspecies are listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Hawai’i has the highest rate of extinction per square mile on Earth.


Tree fern ,Big Island, HI, 24 July 2002 by Ted Lee Eubanks

I can argue (and will) that most Americans have no idea as to the biological richness of the Hawai’ian Islands, or their fragility. Here is an example. The three species of tree ferns (Hapu’u) in Hawai’i are all endemic. Feral hogs love to root around their bases, often killing the fern in the process. This leaves a depression where water can collect, mosquitoes can breed, and through which avian malaria can continue its spread. Yet when the Nature Conservancy began its efforts to remove these feral hogs (lethally, I admit), American animal rights groups were in opposition.

If asked about biodiversity, no doubt most Americans would point to “rain forests,” or Costa Rica, or the Galapagos. I also suspect that most American birders are unaware of the singularity of the Hawai’ian avifauna. Yet 90% of Hawaiian plants and animals exist nowhere else on this planet!

Please, explain to me how Hawai’i is not the American Galapagos other than the press the latter receives. Try to remember the last time you read about Hawai’ian endemic species in a travel magazine. No doubt you have seen many articles about the natural wonders of Costa Rica and the Galapagos. What about Hawai’i?

 

Almannagjá,Þingvellir NP, Sep 2010 by Ted Lee Eubanks

Let’s warp over to the other side of North America, to Iceland. Yes, I said Iceland. The photograph above is Þingvellir; more specifically Almannagjá, in Þingvellir National Park.The Lögberg (or Law Rock, the ridge to the left) is where Iceland’s legislative and judicial body (the Alþingi, the oldest parliament in Europemet from 930 until 1271. This landscape (the Þingvellir rift valley) is also the eastern edge of North America drifting apart from the western boundary of Europe. From a geological perspective, North America is to the left (west) and Europe to the right (east). Þingvellir and the Great Rift Valley of Eastern Africa are the only sites on Earth where the effects of two major plates drifting apart can be observed.

My bird list from Iceland is from two continents. Do I need to keep tabs of where the rift is while I am birding, like making sure what I see in South Texas is on the “right” side of the Rio Grande? Iceland considers itself part of Europe, and its birds are included in European field guides. Hawaii is a state, for goodness sake, and of course considers itself part of the United States. Why the embargo?  

The ABA can begin to correct its glaring omission (or commission) by placing the Hawai’ian chain where it has always belonged, in America. Birders can begin to bring attention to the plight of Hawai’ian endemics by highlighting them through their recreation and ticking them off their lists. Any attention (even listing) is better than no attention at all. Without attention, without interest, Hawai’i and its spectacular biodiversity, its life, will continue to bleed away. 

 

 

Facebooktwitter
The following two tabs change content below.
Ted Lee Eubanks

Ted Lee Eubanks

Ted Lee Eubanks is president and CEO of Fermata Inc. an Austin-based global leader is sustainable tourism and outdoor recreation. Eubanks and Fermata were responsible for developing the first birding trails, in Texas, in the early 1990s. He has served on the national boards of Audubon and the CLO, and received the first ABA Chan Robbins Award in 2000. Eubanks writes extensively about birds, conservation, and sustainability, and has coauthored two books about birds (The Birdlife of Houston, Galveston, and the Upper Texas Coast, and Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail). To continue his work connecting people to places, birders to birds, Eubanks has formed a new company, Great American Trails, which is using new technologies to attract new constituents to the outdoors.
Ted Lee Eubanks

Latest posts by Ted Lee Eubanks (see all)

American Birding Podcast
Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
Read More »

Categories

Authors

Archives

ABA's FREE Birder's Guide

via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow ABA on Twitter