This blog series has been looking at the natural history and geology of the Hawaiian Islands against the backdrop of the changes brought about by colonization around a thousand years ago, and again around 200 years ago. The first wave of humans were the Polynesians, the second, the Europeans and Americans. The changes brought to the islands have been profound, even catastrophic. Dozens of birds species and other animals are extinct, and the landscape itself is much different than it was a thousand years ago.
Out on the west side of Kaua'i is one of the more interesting places that hardly anyone ever sees. This is in part because a large part of the coastal plain is the property of the U.S. military, a missile testing range. Much of the rest is owned by agricultural interests, and the property is closely watched because genetic testing and crop breeding is taking place, rather than simple crop production. A bumpy dirt road winds along between the properties, leading to a state park at Polihale Beach and Barking Dunes.
The longest continuous sand beach in the Hawaiian Islands extends for 12-13 miles along the Mana Plains. Onshore winds picked up fragments of coral and blew them inland, forming scattered dunes across the plain. Groundwater would well up here and there, producing a number of ponds and wetlands. The region was once one of the most important bird habitats on the islands. That was then. That was the Hawai'i that was.
|The Mana Plain in 1907. Source: http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-golden-plain.html|
In the 1800s, the swamps and ponds began to be drained and sugar cane and other crops were planted in the newly available fields. By the 1920s, nearly all the wetlands had been drained. The military established their missile tracking facility. Little was left of the original environment, and the rare and endangered shorebirds of Hawai'i had lost a major percentage of their original habitat.
Kawaiele Waterbird Sanctuary. Seven more acres were later added, and work is commencing on an even larger plot of 105 acres. It's nowhere near enough, but it's a start.
It's said that if the spirits of the deceased did not have family members in the sea to receive them, they would wander this landscape, attaching themselves to rocks and other features. I don't like the thought of being lost in eternity. I'd like to know that they found happiness somewhere in this place, perhaps among the birds of the refuge...