Hawai’i is one of the most isolated lands in the world, sitting in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, almost 2,500 miles distant from San Francisco, its closest port-of-call. Up until the arrival of the first humans (some 1,700 to 1,200 years ago), the island chain was populated solely by flora and fauna that arrived in one of three ways: via bird, winds, or ocean currents. And many of those plants and animals that did manage to make the long voyage evolved over millions of years into completely new, distinct species.
downtown Hilo’s new Palila mural,
painted by Kathleen Kam
(you can order a signed print of the mural here)
It has been estimated that there were some 8,500 native species on the Hawaiian Islands before the arrival of the first Polynesian sailors, and that about 96% of these were endemic—i.e., they evolved on the islands and were found no where else in the world. Perhaps even more interesting is that these endemic species are thought to have evolved from only about 1,000 original colonizing species. In other words, some eight new species evolved from each one that made it to the islands. (Many of these facts, as well as ones that follow, are taken from this document.)