Endangered Species in Hawai'i

A green sea turtle swimming underwater
Anne Jorgenson

The third Friday of every May is National Endangered Species Day. Established by Congress, this day acts as a way to raise awareness and support conservation efforts to protect the incredible creatures on this planet. 

The Hawaiian islands have some of the most unique ecosystems around the world. Due to its remote nature, Hawai’i had a very insular environment for most of its existence. This isolation means that most flora and fauna on the islands are endemic, which has led to this archipelago housing some of the most unique species on the planet, and subsequently some of those most susceptible to endangerment.

Here are five of the threatened wildlife species on the islands.

Called ‘honu’ here in Hawai’i, these green sea turtles were classified as endangered in 1978 and have only recently been reclassified as threatened. It is a fairly common occurrence to see honu while swimming here, and while it is acceptable to swim alongside and observe them, make sure not to touch or make them feel threatened in the water.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Scientists estimate there are only about 1,100 of these seals left, and as they exclusively reside in this archipelago they are a very important and protected species here on the islands. The Hawaiian name, ‘Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua,’ translates to, “The dog which runs in rough waters.”

A distant cousin of the Canadian goose, the nene is the state bird of Hawai'i and are the rarest geese in the world. In December of 2019 the nene was officially reclassified to ‘threatened’ rather than 'endangered' but back in 1967 there were only 30 wild nene left in existence. The nene population has slowly increased to over 3,000 and continues to slowly increase due to conservation efforts.

Listed as critically endangered, the Kiwikiu, or Maui parrotbill, exclusively call Maui home. The total population is only estimated to be around 300 and efforts are currently being made to reintroduce the population on the east side of the island. 

The ʻAlalā, or Hawaiian crow, is currently extinct in the wild. There are over 110 captive ʻalalā that biologists are working to reintroduce, but due to habitat deterioration and predators such as the 'io, or Hawaiian hawk. ʻAlalā are especially unique as they predate human settlers on the Hawaiian islands and are the only surviving Hawaiian crow species. 

Here on Maui, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by incomparable ‘āina - “land” in Hawaiian -  and days like this serve as an important reminder to not only protect wildlife and fauna however you can, but to appreciate it as well. 

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