Our traveler sees that her 2003 efforts at Hawaiian environmental restoration established plant life in a barren area.

Marijke Wilhelmus is a freelance web designer whose love of marine life spurred her to go on a yearlong trek around the world to discover examples of sustainable living and preservation projects in remote areas above and below the surface of the ocean. Seed asked Marijke to document her travels by sending regular dispatches chronicling the different characters she meets and the innovative and practical ways of life she witnesses.

To see all of Marijke’s dispatches from her travels, click here.


(Click on a thumbnail below to view a larger picture)

Kaloko-Honokahau National Park, the Big Island, Hawaii

planting.jpg The author, planting.

In 2003, I was fortunate enough to join a three-month ecological restoration class with Jill Wagner from Tree Hawaii, a non-profit, environmental educational organization. During this 12-week course, we learned about native habitat restoration in Hawaii through the collection of native seeds and the propagation of plants. We participated in forest habitat restoration at Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, which sits below the majestic Hualalai Volcano on the Kona Coast of the Big Island.

Recently I returned to Kaloko-Honokahau National Park to participate in further restoration and observe how the plants I introduced three years ago have fared.

maia_pilo.jpg Maia pilo flower

For ancient Hawaiians, the forests of the Hawaiian Islands meant life itself. From them they gathered the resources and drew the spiritual inspiration that comprised the cornerstones of their culture.

Today, Hawaii has more endangered plants than any other state in the U.S.:
273 plants are listed as threatened or endangered. Ninety percent of Hawaii’s native forests have been lost to land development, deforestation, fire, aggressive non-native plant species, diseases, and grazing by domestic and feral animals. The native plant ecosystems are not resistant to invasion by aggressive alien weeds, which are often faster growing and disperse more readily than Hawaiian species. Many of the trees and plants introduced in the past for ornamental, agricultural, or forestrial use have escaped and become serious pests of native ecosystems.

lavaplanting.jpg The arduous task of planting in lava.

In the last decade, for both biological and cultural reasons, there has been a renewed sense of urgency for protecting these declining forests.

In Jill Wagner’s course, we followed the principles of ecological restoration: First, we removed non-native invasive plants, such as Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum), Kiawe (Prosopis pallida), and Christmas Berry (Schinus terebinthifolia). We then collected native seeds from the site and propagated them in a greenhouse. We took the seeds an earlier group had propagated and planted them out around Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, fertilizing them with mulch and organic material.
During this most recent trip, I was able to be part of more planting at Kaloko Honokohau National Park. It was wonderful to see how some of the plants I planted in 2003 had established themselves.

halapepe.jpg A beautiful, well established Halapepe.

Every summer, Jill Wagner, the staff at Kaloko Honokohau National Park, and other volunteers document the progress of all native plants introduced through this project by recording the plants’ height, base diameter, flowers, seeds, pests and natural generation. Some of our plants, such as Maia pilo (Capparis sandwichiana), Ko’oko’olau (Bidens sandvicensis), Halepepe (Pleomele hawaiiensis) and Lolou (Pritchardia affinis), a plant that is endangered in the wild, are now well established.

Natural generation is essential for the success of this project and the exciting news is: It is happening.

Originally published November 21, 2006

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