Sam Ohu Gon says native Hawaiian plants and animals becoming rare

Sam Ohu Gon: If you look in the Hawaiian Islands – below 2,000 feet – by and large you’re going to have a very hard time finding native plants and animals. Above 2,000 feet things get a little bit better. And the more remote and higher you go from where people are, which is down near the coast, that’s where you’ll find the most intact, remaining pieces of Hawaiian biodiversity.

Sam Ohu Gon is senior scientist and cultural advisor for the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. His job is to help preserve Hawaii’s diversity of plants and animals. He said the eight islands in the Hawaiian chain have more distinct ecosystems than all of Brazil.

Sam Ohu Gon: In the Hawaiian Islands, in a five-mile distance, you can go from mountain wet forest, down through a shrubland, and into low land dry forest, and then into a coast dune system, and then enter the ocean.

But invasive species of animals and plants brought by visitors – plus impending climate change – are causing native Hawaiian plants and animals to become rare. Large areas of Hawaii are protected, but Gon said the challenge is to manage what lives there correctly.

Sam Ohu Gon: Just setting up a preserve and walking away doesn’t work in Hawaii.

He mentioned a conservation success on the island of Maui, where a native forest recovered to support endangered birds, after non-native plants and animals were manually removed. He explained what it takes to conserve Hawaii’s unique biodiversity and ecosystems.

Sam Ohu Gon: 15:39 What we need to do is take a look at the most intact and viable systems, identify what is stressing them, what threats they face, what threats are on the horizon, and do all we can to establish prevention systems, early detection and removal of a new weed that arrives from somewhere in the world.

He said that invasive species – that, once established, aggressively out compete native species – are a particular problem in Hawaii due to its location.

Sam Ohu Gon: Hawaii is a hub of transportation in the Pacific, and if you don’t get rid of something soon as it gets in, if you wait for it to establish a population, the chances go down dramatically that you’ll be able to succeed in removing a growing threat. In fact, once you identify a growing threat it is probably too late.

Our thanks today to NOAA Pacific Services Center – linking culture, science, and people to build resilient Pacific Island communities.

June 14, 2010

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