Kaho‘olawe Island, Hawai‘i is the smallest of the eight main Hawai’ian Islands, at 28,800 acres (11, 520 hectares). Located near Maui, Kaho‘olawe is the largest unpopulated and wholly protected island in the archipelago, offering an unprecedented opportunity to protect Hawai’ian species and culture.
aho‘olawe Island historically supported many of Hawai‘i’s native plants and animals, as well as a thriving culture—especially in ocean navigation. However, invasive species present on the island have destroyed native plant and animal populations and disrupted cultural practices. IC is working with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to advance the restoration of Kaho‘olawe Island by removing invasive rodents and feral cats. This will allow for the protection of the native habitat and provide the opportunity for the return of at least twelve species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including the Hawai’ian Petrel and Newell’s Shearwater. Seabirds have deep roots in Hawai’ian culture—oral history describes how they provided navigation cues to early Polynesian settlers and led fishermen to schools of fish on the high seas.
Restoring Kaho‘olawe Island will help realize the KIRC vision in which native Hawaiian species thrives and cultural practices flourish with Hawai‘i’s future generations.
Kaho’olawe Island. Photo: Andrew Wright
1. EXISTING THREATS
Although no longer used by the Navy, the island habitat has been degraded by years of use as a Navy bombing range as well as the impacts of invasive species, including invasive cats, rodents, and ungulates (sheep, goats, and cattle). Ungulates were removed in the 1990s; eliminating the impacts of invasive cats and rodents will allow for rapid, natural recovery of the island ecosystem and native species.
2. A LONELY PLANT
Kanaloa kahoolawensis (pictured) is the single member of an endemic Hawai’ian plant genus found only on Kaho‘olawe. Kanaloa was discovered in 1992, and the single remaining species grows on the cliffs of Ale’ale Pu’uloae, a sea stack off the south coast of Kaho‘olawe. Removal of invasive mice and rats (seed predators) and restoration of Kaho‘olawe’s plant community are critical steps toward saving this species that is edging toward extinction.
Photo: James Bruch
3. TAKING ACTION
The KIRC is currently implementing a very active and diverse restoration program including restoration of native land-based habitats and watersheds. They are applying key strategies that address erosion control, plant and animal restoration, and enhancement of the island’s natural water systems. The removal of invasive cats, rats, and mice are one part of the overall program to restore the natural ecosystem, and it is critical to the overall success of the program.
4. CLIMATE CHANGE
Kaho‘olawe represents an important opportunity
to provide climate change adaptation strategies for threatened species. Fossil records provide evidence that the Critically Endangered Laysan Duck once inhabited Kaho‘olawe Island; however, today the duck is restricted to the low-elevation islands of Laysan and Midway in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, and it is at risk from projected sea-level rise. Once Kaho‘olawe is free of invasive predators, the Laysan Duck, and other threatened species, can be translocated to this high-elevation island.
Photo: Jimmy Breeden/USGS
In partnership with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), to further the restoration of Kaho‘olawe Island by evaluating the feasibility of removing invasive rodents and feral cats to provide predator-free habitat for indigenous flora and fauna.
The Kaho‘olawe ecosystem is alive with robust populations of native plants and animals, as well as traditional Hawai’ian practices, and provides a refuge for Hawai’ian species threatened by climate change. This is achieved through the Hawai’ian concept of Pilina ‘Āina (Renewing Connections): honoring the natural environment and revitalizing cultural relationships through Kanaloa Kaho‘olawe.
Invasive rats, cats, and mice prey on native seabird eggs, chicks, and adults; consume native plant seeds and seedlings; and disrupt traditional Hawai’ian practices.
Removal of invasive species will allow for the recovery of Kaho‘olawe’s ecosystems.
COMMITTED TO A HEALTHY ISLANDS
As an administrative agency of the State of Hawai’i’s DLNR, the KIRC is partnering with Island Conservation, other governmental agencies, cultural groups, and local conservation organizations to evaluate the social, economic, and technical feasibility of removing invasive species from Kaho‘olawe Island.
Patty has a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Her doctoral work focused on the evolution of phenotypes in seabirds and she conducted field work mostly in the Galapagos islands. After returning to her home country of Brazil, she took on leadership roles for Conservation International. At CI-Brazil, she directed the Amazon Program (2009-2011) and served as Director of Governance and Policies (2011-2015). She has worked extensively with NGOs, governments, and conservation networks to advance conservation on the ground. She has recently joined Island Conservation as Hawaii Program Manager.