By Neva Knott
To watch the sun rise over Haleakala, Maui’s dormant volcano, is to watch the world begin. Simultaneously, darkness lifts across the island and silhouettes become palms, hibiscus and plumeria. The birdsong begins and the ocean’s surface turns from a black void to rippled water. By the time the sun is above the volcano, Maui is alive.
Each morning on my recent trip, I arose in the pre-dawn darkness to walk. It’s the best way to get a sense of the place. The first morning, I found a shore bird nesting sanctuary just near the Kihei boat ramp. According to Andrew Engilis, Jr. and Maura Naughton, authors of the U.S. Pacific Island Regional Shorebird Conservation Plan, “The USPI [United States Pacific Islands] are home to one endemic shorebird,the endangered Hawaiian Stilt, and are important wintering areas for three species of Holarctic- Nearctic breeders: the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, and Wandering Tattler. The majority of these species’ populations overwinter in the Pacific Islands, and these islands are critical to the maintenance of these birds.”
As Engilis and Naughton mention, the Hawaiian Stilt is an endemic species. Endemic species are those only found in the region they inhabit, and no where else in the world. Island biogeography and islands as ecosystems are interesting in that they are closed systems, microcosms of larger landmasses; endemic species add a layer to what scientists can know about a particular ecosystem and it’s health.
I love awakening to a new day on Maui. It feels pure. It feels like all life is interconnected. I feel alive there, and part of the web of life created by the sunrise and birdsong. I feel privy to the ancient truths embodied by the mountains.
Later that first day, I snorkeled at Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, a bay created by Haleakala’s lava flow. I watched species of fish feed and swim, and I knew that they were as important to the day as any other species, just as important as any one of us. Because fish do what they do, humans exist. In the ocean that day, I witnessed the mystery of life.
Islands can teach humans much about keeping the environment healthy. Just as each island species adds value and continuity to the web of life, it is easy to see on an island how each act of depletion causes irreparable harm. On an island, each piece of trash matters–will it blow into the ocean? Will it make it into a land fill? Where will it go when the land fill is full?
When I exited the ocean after my snorkel, the island was doubly alive–alive with the natural web of life and alive with consumeristic tourists, all of whom were excited about the fish and coral and the blue of the water; none of whom seemed concerned about their part in the web.