Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saving the Critically Endangered Palila Bird

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.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Making Leis

Its been a very Hawaiian week. Which isn’t all that surprising, given that I’m living in Hilo—perhaps the most “Hawaiian” of all the locales in this state.

Okay, some of you may be thinking that Hawaiian culture doesn’t have a whole lot to do with either custard or clues. But indeed it does! For I am currently working on the sequel to my first mystery m.s., which sequel takes place in Hawaii. It’s a sort of fish-out-of-water story, in which my protagonist Sally Solari of Santa Cruz, California, finds herself delving into the unfamiliar culture of the Big Island as she attempts to solve a mystery: Whose body did she witness being covered over by hot lava?

So back to my Hawaiian week. Last Saturday I had the opportunity to join in the Kauluwehi Lei Workshop, hosted by several agencies (including the DLNR, NARS, and the Three Mountain Alliance) along with the Wailoa Arts and Cultural Center. (The Wailoa Center is also hosting a lei contest in conjunction with the workshops. No, I will not be submitting an entry, but I will go check them out.)

The workshop took place at about 5,000 feet, on the Pu‘u Maka’ala Natural Area Reserve, which lies on the eastern flank of Mauna Loa. The reserve is one of the few pristine native forests left on the Big Island, and is host to some of Hawaii’s rarest birds, including the nene (Hawaiian goose), ’akiapola’au and i’iwi (honeycreepers) and i’o (Hawaiian Hawk).