Hello, and welcome to our first guest post on Out of the Blue. It comes from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the leading organization for identifying and protecting threatened and endangered species. We are proud to support the IUCN’s mission by donating a portion of the proceeds from every bottle of fragrance we sell, and we are also proud to welcome them to our blog with this timely post.
The paradise islands of Hawaii are famous for their beaches, volcanoes and rich biodiversity. Over 10,000 species of plants, animals and fungi are found only on these islands—nowhere else on earth—and they play a major role in generating an annual $10 billion in annual income from the tourist industry.
Hawaii’s native species are also a valued part of traditional life, where they are used for medicine, ceremonies, tools and jewelry. Despite the economic, social and environmental importance of these species, current estimates indicate that as much 50% of all species found on Hawaii are at risk of extinction.
An astonishing 83% of the 433 Hawaiian plant species listed on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ are facing a risk of extinction in the wild. Fifty-two percent of the Hawaiian plant species are classified as Critically Endangered (CR).
One such species is the purple flowered Cyanea kuhihewa, or Haha, bellflower. Twelve Haha plants were discovered in the Upper Limahuli Valley on Kaua’i Island in 1991, but a year later Hurricane Iniki struck, destroying much of its habitat, and the plant began to disappear. The effects of the hurricane were compounded by impacts from foraging feral pigs and invasive plants such as the invasive shrub, Clidemia hirta. As a result, this beautiful bellflower was thought to be lost forever.
After many years of exploration in the rugged and isolated environments of Kaua’i, the Haha was rediscovered in December 2017. Two mature individuals and one juvenile plant were observed with numerous seedlings, which are now being cultivated in Hawaiian nurseries. The scientists hope to continue monitoring these vulnerable plants, thereby helping to ensure their survival.
Hawaii lies nearly 2,500 miles from the nearest continent and has never been connected to a body of land. This isolation, together with the volcanic and mountainous geography of the Hawaiian Islands, have enabled the evolution of the rich island biodiversity, including over 1,700 endemic plant species.
The isolation also makes these species extremely vulnerable, as there are limited habitats to which they can expand in times of trouble. Extreme weather, volcanic explosions (such as the Kilauea eruption) and tourism all pose serious threats, but it is the introduction of invasive species that has possibly had the greatest impact on native species.
Estimates suggest that a new species was established in Hawaii once every 25,000-50,000 years before human arrival, distributed by birds, wind and sea. Over the last 30 years, this has increased to one newly established species almost every 18 days. Introduced plant species compete with native plant species for land space, nutrients and water, while introduced animal species may forage on or trample on native plants.
The story of the Haha illustrates the vulnerability of plants and the importance of urgent and effective conservation action for the persistence of Hawaii’s remaining native species.