Hawaii: Extinction Capital of the World

Conservationists are working to prevent further extinctions on the Hawaiian Islands.

What do you imagine when you think of the Hawaiian Islands? Do you picture beautiful beaches, lush forests, and the diverse species that have evolved there? You might not expect anyone to mention extinction or endangered species in a conversation about this world-class vacation destination.

Hawai’i might be known widely for its beauty, but it also holds the record for the most extinct birds in the world. These island species evolved without the threat of predation by mammals. The introduction of invasive species has led to rapid declines in native birds.


The I’iwi used to be one of the most common native birds in Hawai’i, but populations have been rapidly decreasing. Credit: USFWS-Pacific Region

Since many native birds evolved to be either flightless or had no evolutionary need to nest in trees, the ground historically made a suitable location for nesting. Once invasive rats and other predators arrived on the islands through human travel, the ground was no longer a safe place.


A pair of Nēnē along a road in Kaua’i. Credit: Byron Chin

Today, the fate of many island birds hangs in the balance as conservationists work to restore native habitat and revive their populations. The Hawaiian goose, also known as the Nēnē, was once facing extinction; conservationists stepped in with an attempt at captive breeding which ultimately saved the species. Although the Nēnē is still listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, conservation has made a huge impact on their recovery and efforts are still in place to help them thrive.

The task of preventing extinction is daunting to any conservationist, but more and more stories of recovery are taking shape. Optimism is becoming a driving force that leads us toward a thriving natural world.

Featured photo: After 60 years of collaborative conservation efforts among federal, state, NGOs and local partners, the Hawaiian Goose, or Nēnē, is one step closer to recovery. Credit: Kim Rogers/USFWS – Pacific Region
Big Island News Now
Honolulu Magazine

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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