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The Gap Year Blog

National Park Profile: Interview with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

9 Feb 2016 10:20 AM

We’re island hopping this week on Into the Wild. So far we’ve been to some pretty spectacular places, looking at some of the most remote islands in the world, as well as focusing on some of the most biodiverse. One island we haven’t really covered so far is Hawaii, that iconic landmass in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. So we spoke to our lovely friends at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to find out a bit about the area and what the park is all about.

Answers supplied by Rhonda Loh, Chief of Resource Management and Jessica Ferracane, Public Information Officer.

Into the Wild: What are the main conservation issues being addressed at the moment in the Hawaii Volcanoes  National Park?  

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Perpetuating native plants, animals and habitats in the face of ongoing pressure from introduced plants and animals. Many of the native species and habitats are unique to the Hawaiian Islands, so there loss is a global loss. The native biota evolved over millions of years in geographic isolation and in the absence of many competitors, herbivores, and predators commonly found on continental systems. For instance there were no 4-legged animals, no mosquitos, no terrestrial reptiles or amphibians native to the islands.

The relatively recent introduction of new species that accompanied humans to the islands (for example goats, cattle, rats, mongoose, miconia) has overwhelmed the native biota. Many plants and animals have been lost due to herbivores, competition, predation and disease caused by these recent introductions. The changes to species composition, including loss of whole habitats, has led to significant changes to the environment, including changes in hydrologic and nutrient cycles, and fire regimes.  

Into the Wild: Which issues will be addressed in the future?  

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Climate change - many of the current stresses  faced by native species and ecosystems will be exacerbated by changes in climate predicted by current climate change models. Actions to address climate change include improving local  forecast models to get a better prediction of how habitats and populations may change and shift in the future, and increasing the capacity of species and systems to adapt to change (building resilience) by reducing key stressors (such as invasives).

Into the Wild: Which issues have been successfully addressed in the past?  

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: The park has been very effective at excluding non-native ungulates (cattle, goat, sheep, pigs) through construction of barrier fences, and keeping invasive weed abundance low in high priority habitats. These specially managed areas are called Special Ecological Areas (SEAs) and are selected on the basis of the rarity and exemplary nature of the vegetation type, vegetation intactness, plant species diversity and richness, manageability, presence of rare and endangered species, preserve design considerations, immediacy of threats from invasive species, research potential, and interpretive values.  SEAs also serve as restoration sites for rare plants and animals.   

Into the Wild: Which species can be found in the park? 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: The park is home to more than 400 species of native plants, 40+ species of native birds, 1,100+ species of native invertebrates, 1 terrestrial mammal (Hawaiian Hoary Bat). Three marine animals, the hawksbill turtle, green turtle, and Hawaiian Monk Seal, use beaches in the park. The most common native tree is the Ohia, which can be seen from the coastal lowlands to subalpine areas, and from dryland to rain forest.  Its adaptions to the different environments include altering leaf hairiness (pubescent or glabrous), size (short and tall stature) and canopy shape (spreading vs columnar). 

Into the Wild: Are any animals in the park critically endangered? 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Yes, the park provides habitat for over 50 candidate and federally listed plants and animals. Besides the four animals previously mentioned, other endangered species include the Nene or Hawaiian goose, the Kau silversword, Uau or Hawaiian petrel, and several species of Oha wai.

Into the Wild: How is the park funded?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: It receives its funding through several federal, state, and fee revenue streams, as well as from private donations.

Into the Wild: Why should people visit your national park?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: There is absolutely nowhere else on earth like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We provide access to Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, two of the most active volcanoes on earth. We also preserve endemic Hawaiian ecosystems  you’ll find nowhere else on earth, and we perpetuate the Hawaiian culture that is so deeply connected to these landscapes. The park became a World Heritage Site in 1987, and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. 

There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails in the park, from easy strolls around the rim of Kilauea easily accessed from the Kilauea Visitor Center, to longer multi-day backcountry hikes. 

The park’s diversity is especially captivating. The park is 333,086 acres and stretches from the summit of Mauna Loa volcano at 13,677 feet to sea level. We have everything from dry, arid lava deserts to the icy and snowy summit of Mauna Loa in winter, to lush rain forests filled with native honey creepers found only in this park, their last sanctuary. At the  coast, the mighty Pacific roars onto a lava cliff shoreline, and on occasion, lava from Kilauea enters the sea, providing quite a spectacle.  

Into the Wild: When is the best time to visit your park?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Anytime! The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (or 366 this leap  year). Currently, visitors who arrive after dark have been able to get fantastic views of the glow from the lava swirling deep inside Halema’uma’u, a crater within Kilauea volcano, from the overlook at Jaggar Museum. Halema’uma’u is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. 

Into the Wild: What is your personal favourite part of the park and why?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: It’s all my favorite part of the park!  But there is a special spot called Kilauea Overlook. Rangers often call it Kilauea Overlooked, because most visitors drive right past it to Jaggar Museum, where they can park, walk a short distance, and get closer views of Halema’uma’u. Kilauea Overlook also affords fantastic views of Halema’uma’u, but it’s quieter because the parking is further away from the overlook than at Jaggar, and it’s a new perspective.  There are native shrubs in the area that attract nene geese and therefore you can often spot mated pairs of Hawaii’s state bird (nene) in this quiet area. 

Into the Wild: Has the park got any claims to fame?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Chris Isaak’s provocative video, “Wicked Game” was shot here on location with singer/rocker Chris Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen. The beach they are on has since been covered by lava.

Into the Wild: Any other interesting info?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: The Volcano House hotel, which has been closed for two years for renovations, will reopen again this year. It is the only hotel in the world perched on the rim of an active volcano!

Interview by Alex Prior - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!