I went to Hawaii a few weeks ago, for a good friend’s wedding (seems I only travel for weddings these days). I have been to Hawaii several times and I must say I love the place. I probably wouldn’t want to live there for very long because of the lack of seasons and because the sheer isolation and limited land area of the archipelago would probably drive me nuts. But it’s a lovely place to visit, no doubt.
Hawaii is superficially very beautiful, but with my biology goggles on I can’t help but see it for what it is: an environmental disaster. Specifically, Hawaii is a sad example of how human-mediated invasions of alien species can radically change natural ecosystems. Insane numbers of introduced organisms have been ferried over to Hawaii since the first Polynesians pushed their canoes ashore. These new species can outcompete and consume natives, introduce new diseases, and destroy habitat. Now the rate at which new species are arriving on these once isolated islands is millions of times higher than it was before humans were in the mix. We have introduced great numbers of weeds and other plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Hawaii’s native bird species have been decimated by disease and introduced predators; half of all the plant species now on Hawaii are non-native. Boo!
I was on Maui during my recent visit. I saw some exotic-looking birds that most tourists probably assume are Hawaiian endemics. Nope. I’ll bet that just about every bird I saw was an introduced species. And who knows how much of the lush plant life I saw while hiking in Iao Valley (see photo above) was composed of weeds and such from all corners of the world? I couldn’t even get excited when I found a cane toad hopping in the grass of a beach side resort one night– Hawaii has no native amphibians or reptiles.