There are reasons why Hawaii is one of those places that everyone has heard of – and why it is one of, if not the #1 premier vacation destination in the world. It is unique in more ways than can be easily listed. In fact, most things about Hawaii are unique – from how it was created, how its creation continues, its history and culture, its climate, its flora and fauna, and its isolation.
For millions of years the tectonic plate on which Hawaii is located has been slowly moving Northwest at the rate a fingernail grows. And as it does so, it is passing over a spot in the Earth’s mantle called a “hot spot.” This hot spot is like an open sore in the mantle that consistently and slowly exudes magma (lava) that reaches the surface.
Hawaiian mythology talks of this battle between the two great forces of fire from the Earth’s interior and the inexhaustible water supply of the world’s largest ocean. While over the hot spot, the fire from the Earth’s center is the winner. Over time enough material escapes and builds upon itself and the ocean floor until it rises above the ocean’s surface and becomes an island. But it doesn’t stop there. It continues to erupt as a volcano until large mountains are formed. This is still occurring now on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is happening right before our eyes, and it is possible to stand just feet away as you watch the island grow with new lava. As this now mountainous island leaves the replenishing hot spot, it begins to lose its constant battle with the erosion of the ocean and the weather. It is destined to again descend below the waves, but for hundreds of millions of years there has always been another island on the “assembly line.” And today Lohi’i is an underwater volcano south of the Big Island, and is scheduled to break the surface in 100,000 years. Hawaii is the most isolated land on the planet, and has always been that way.
Unlike almost all the other land on Earth, it has never been connected or bridged to any other land. What evolved on Hawaii originated from the very few organisms that could float, fly, or swim to its shores. This remained a very limited factor until man arrived on the scene. For better or for worse the Polynesians, the European explorers, and now millions of tourists and new residents bring an assortment of life, both intentionally and inadvertently. This has created many challenges. With no mammals on the island, the bird life had evolved with no defensive mechanisms – many nested on the ground. And since there were no mosquitos, there were no mosquito borne illnesses like avian malaria. So, with the introduction of rats and mosquitos the bird life was decimated. Just as the Polynesians themselves suffered from new diseases brought by the Europeans, so did the flora and fauna. More than 90% of the endemic bird population is now extinct.
And it continues today, and is why there are so many agricultural and other regulations. There are still no snakes, and no rabies in Hawaii, and it would be nice to keep it that way. Many new introductions become instant problems because their predators and other constraints from their homeland are most likely non-existent here, so they flourish to an extreme. The examples have been many.