The Hawaiian Islands are the most remote land area on the Earth. Situated in the center of the northern Pacific Ocean these islands are a refuge for overwintering migratory birds as well as an evolutionary marvel of diverse endemic bird species. Devoid of endemic land mammals (save the Hawaiian hoary bat), these isolated islands were once richly covered with birds: forest birds, coastal water and shorebirds, and open ocean seabirds. At one time Hawaii supported 113 bird species unique in the world, including flightless geese, ibis, rails, and 59 species of Hawaiian honeycreepers. Today, that status has changed.
According to the 2009 State of the Birds Report, “More bird species are vulnerable to extinction in Hawaii than anywhere else in the United States. More than one-third of all U.S. federally listed bird species occur in Hawaii and 71 bird species have gone extinct since humans colonized the islands in about 300 AD. At least 10 more birds species have not been seen in as long as 40 years and may also be extinct.”
In 2010 the State of the Birds Report examined bird species vulnerability to climate change in the main biomes across the U.S., and from that assessment placed the Ocean biome (seabird species) and the Hawaiian Islands of highest concern. The 2014 Report’s “Watch List” includes 33 Hawaiian forest species, 23 of which are listed as endangered. With these conditions, it is not a surprise that Hawai`i is deemed the “extinction capital of the world”.
The Pacific Birds partnership is focused on reversing this trend. Since 2005, when Hawaii became part of the joint venture partnership, collaboration to prevent extinction has been underway. A first step is the initial focus of the partnership’s efforts toward restoration of wetland habitats to support endemic and migratory waterbirds.
Wetlands and waterbird species will continue to be an important immediate focus in Hawai`i, while additional priorities will likely emerge in the future. Pacific Birds will continue to promote collaboration, raise national awareness, help generate and leverage funding, and assist and support the enormous conservation efforts needed to address and prevent extinctions in Hawai`i.