Wetlands are places of incredible biological productivity, species diversity and habitat transition. Hawaii’s hydrological conditions — heavy rainfall, porous volcanic soil, and steep terrain — have created unique wetlands that are very different from those found in any other continental land masses. These wetlands include coastal lagoons, mountainous bogs and anchialine ponds. Anchialine ponds are land-locked, brackish pools in porous lava, connected underground to both fresh and salt water. Hawaii is one of the few places world-wide where they are found.
At one time Hawaii contained an estimated 59,000 acres of wetlands. At present Hawaii has lost over 12 percent of its total wetland acreage and over 30 percent of its natural lowland wetlands. Although the remaining wetlands cover less than three percent of Hawaii’s surface area, they are extremely important because they support a suite of plant and animal species found only in the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii’s wetlands are inhabited by five endangered endemic waterbird species, including the Hawaiian duck (Anas wyvilliana), Hawaiian stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), Hawaiian moorhen (Gallinula chloropus sandvicensis), Hawaiian goose (Branta sandvicensis) and the Hawaiian coot (Fulica alai). A major contributing factor to declining populations of these species is the loss of wetland habitats.
To provide habitat for these endemic Hawaiian waterbirds, and other migratory wetland species, the Joint Venture partners work collaboratively to offer a strategic approach to wetland habitat conservation and restoration within the Hawaiian Islands.
Identifying focus areas increases the likelihood of partnership collaboration within these areas and adds benefit when partners apply for project funding. This combination helps us to better conserve essential wetlands before they are further degraded or lost. The focus area polygons do not include all wetland areas but rather those areas that are considered most important and urgent at the present time. This does not mean that other wetlands within the Strategic Plan are not of interest to the Joint Venture. Wetlands outside the focus areas are still important sites for conservation but are not the highest immediate priority within the plan.
Focus areas encompassing full watersheds were specifically identified as beneficial for the endangered Koloa maoli. This endemic Hawaiian duck uses both wetland areas and stream corridors to meet its life history needs.
It is important to note that both the Strategic Plan and this focus area addendum are a starting point for further quantitative revisions to the plan. The Strategic Plan for Wetland Conservation in Hawaii will be revised on a regular basis and therefore these maps represent a starting place for further refinement as additional resource information becomes available.
In the future new information will be incorporated from updates to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wetland Inventory (NWI). The inventories for two Hawaiian Islands (Oahu and Kauai) are already complete, with Maui Nui (Maui & closest small islands) expected in mid-2011 and Hawaii Island to follow. These updates will feed into the next full revision of the Strategic Plan.
In addition, the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative, a Pacific Birds partner, will obtain research data on sea level rise impacts to the islands of Oahu and Maui in the very near future. That data, and any other information from the PICCC research on climate change impacts to wetlands, will be integrated into the next revision of the Strategic Plan. At that point there may be some further clarification of sea level rise adaptation for coastal versus upland wetland systems.
The Joint Venture Strategic Plan for Wetland Conservation in Hawaii is intended to guide partners in collaborative efforts that protect the best and most important wetlands first, with an eye toward long-term habitat sustainability and adaptation in the face of climate change.