More than 10,000 indigenous species of plants
are found in Hawai‘i today, about half of the number
that existed before humans arrived. About 90 percent of these
are exclusive to Hawai‘i, and many of these species are
endangered. The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i takes great
measures to try and preserve these precious species.
Before the arrival of humans, Hawai‘i’s ecosystem
extended from the mountains to the sea,” said Grady Timmons,
communications director for the Hawai‘i chapter of The
Nature Conservancy. Today many of those ecosystems have shrunk
severely to an ever-narrowing belt of land between the mountaintops
and ever-encroaching urban environments.
This pattern of habitat loss is due to the expansion of the earth’s
human population and activities. The age of exploration in the
15th century and has been recognized as the beginning of a dangerous
pattern of destruction to species survival in the early 20th
century. This recognition lead to the creation of the Nature
Conservancy in 1946 by a group of ecologists who decided to use
their knowledge of nature to actively conserve the world’s
threatened natural areas. Its mission is to “preserve the
plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity
of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need
The main tool the Conservancy would use to accomplish its conservation
efforts would be land acquisition. Through ownership, the Conservancy
could sequester pristine ecosystems and prevent the development
of human activities such as farming, manufacturing, or suburban
In Hawai‘i, the Nature Conservancy has about 40,000 acres
of land preserves”: two on Kauai, one on O‘ahu, three
on Moloka‘i, one on Lanai, two on Maui, and three on the
Big Island,” said Timmons.
Conservation protects biodiversity, the plants, animals, and
microorganisms that regulate the essential things like the air
we breathe and the water we drink,” he added. Timmons explained
that the Nature Conservancy has chapters in all 50 of the United
States and about 30 countries, including Canada, Mexico, and
Australia and countries throughout the Asia Pacific region, the
Caribbean, and Latin America.
In Hawai‘i, Timmons explained, the Nature Conservancy works
specifically to protect the native species, the “plants
and animals that were in Hawai‘i before men arrived, bringing
with them different types of invasive species that began to take
over Hawai‘i’s indigenous and endemic species.”
Hawai‘i is a rare region, Timmons explained, because its
isolation allowed its ecosystems to thrive uninterrupted. However, “The
very thing that makes Hawai’i so unique, its isolation,
also makes it vulnerable,” said Timmons. Because Hawai’i
is isolated, its native life is unable to adapt quickly to exposure
to foreign species.
If we are able to remove these threats, life will recover over
time,” said Timmons. In order to accomplish this, the Nature
Conservancy uses a number of methods.
One of the threats involves feral animals that “open up
pathways for invasive plants,” said Timmons. To prevent
wild animals from entering the Nature Conservancy land preserves,
the organization constructs fences around them and sets traps
for unwelcome pests. The conservancy allows community members
to hunt non-native hoofed animals—pigs, goats, deer, and
wild cattle—for food. Animals captured in traps set by
the Nature Conservancy are given to community organizations for
use as food.
To control invasive plant species, the Nature Conservancy uses
three basic approaches. It manually removes the plants, destroys
them with herbicides, and occasionally attempts biocontrol with
Biocontrol introduces natural predators into the area. Predators
that present the fewest ramifications are used to help remove
the invasive species. This method is heavily tested because there
have been failed attempts in the past,” said Timmons, referring
to the spectacular failure of the mongoose, a diurnal predator
brought in to control rats, which are nocturnal.
Efforts to preserve Hawai‘i’s indigenous species
are open to the public.
Right now, our volunteer program is not too big, but we do have
some opportunities for people to help out in our office with
administrative work or data-basing,” said Staab. “This
way students can meet the staff and get to know more about what
We are also always looking for young people who have special
skills to offer,” said Staab, “such as graphic design,
to help us out with projects.”
To volunteer, contact the Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Janice Staab.