The Important Work of the Haleakala Conservancy
Maui has experienced rapid growth and development over recent decades, in many ways it has greatly benefited the island and local community, in other ways, this growth has come at a cost, especially to Maui's delicate ecosystem. Fortunately, there are several organizations that work tirelessly to protect our fragile ecosystems, preserve the native Hawaiian culture along with our archaeological sites, and maintain the vibrancy that the island offers. One of these groups is the Haleakala Conservancy. Through its work to preserve one of the most iconic and recognizable features on the island, Haleakala National Park, it also protects an important backbone of the community overall.
The mission of the Haleakala Conservancy is to support the Haleakala National Park through its philanthropic efforts. This Maui non-profit organization provides essential funding for the park to cover shortfalls in the government budget by funding essential projects. While it strives to preserve the parklands, it also wants them to remain accessible to the public so that Haleakala and its culture can be enjoyed by all.
The Conservancy's Areas of Giving
Specifically, the Haleakala Conservancy has three Areas of Giving. These areas of giving are preservation, conservation, and education. For example, some of its received donations have recently provided $10,000 in funding to protect endangered and threatened birds from predators. Another $6,000 was given for signs for protected archaeological sites in the park.
The organization promotes education through funding of $150,000 for internships. These are only some of the projects that the Haleakala Conservancy has supported in recent years, and it actively collects public donations for ongoing and future projects. The park staff creates the programs funded by the organization, and these programs are detailed to the public through a regular newsletter and on the organization’s website.
Threats To Species Are Threats to Maui's Ecosystem
While Hawaii is one of the smaller states in the U.S., it has the greatest number of endangered plant and animal species. Unfortunately, there are many plant and animal species on Maui that are critically endangered and are literally on the verge of extinction. Some of the projects suggested by the park staff members and funded through the conservancy are designed to protect habitats, minimize the impact of invasive species, monitor populations of endangered and threatened species, and support their perseverance.
The Endangered Kiwikiu
One of the biggest threats to Maui's ecosystem is the critical danger faced by a beloved native bird, the Kiwikiu. The Kiwikiu is an endemic species of Honeycreeper that serves an important role in the higher-elevation forests by being a cross-pollinator of several plants. These birds were on Maui a long time before humans and never developed any resistance to malaria from mosquitoes. With the human discovery and settlement, mosquitoes eventually found their way to Maui and now pose an existential threat to the Kiwikiu.
Avian malaria has decimated the Kiwikiu population, along with other Honeycreepers including the Akohekohe. The first population survey for the Kiwikiu was performed in 1980 when it was estimated that over 500 of the birds remained on the island, numbers today show that the population has declined below 150. Different strategies have been attempted to save this critically endangered species, but the newest one using a bacteria called Wolbachia shows the most promise.
What is Wolbachia?
Wolbachia is a type of bacteria that infects insects, specifically mosquitoes in this case. The bacteria is unique in that it is mutualistic rather than parasitic and its primary effect upon its host is that it alters the reproductive system effectively making them sterile. Haleakala National Park, in coordination with several other entities, has received environmental approval and public approval to strategically release mosquitoes with this bacteria in areas where the Kiwikiu live in an attempt to reduce the mosquito population and hopefully give the birds a fighting chance at staving off extinction.
The good news here is that this massive plan, painstakingly engineered for years is about to come to fruition and according to National Park representatives, we could see declines in the mosquito population within a matter of weeks. Hopefully, this can reverse the extinction course the Kiwikiu are on and provide a great precedent for other birds around the Hawaiian Islands facing the same threats from avian malaria.
The Heart of Maui
This film was funded by the Haleakala Conservancy and produced by the great people at Haleakala National Park to tell the story of the Kiwikiu and why saving them is so important. This film was featured in 8 different film festivals and is a touching monument to the work that conservationists do to help preserve our ecosystems.
Education Opportunities Through Haleakala Conservancy
Haleakala National Park offers numerous educational opportunities for those of all ages. Some of its programs bring students from local elementary schools through colleges into the park to gain valuable knowledge about the ecosystem and culture. There are also educational opportunities through volunteering, internships, and even professional development programs.
The national park attracts more than a million visitors annually, and this includes tourists as well as locals. For both groups, the park provides critical opportunities to commune with nature and learn about threatened environments. It also is a source of pride and connection for locals with numerous archeological sites and objects, buildings, and other points of interest on the grounds. The work of the Haleakala Conservancy ensures that all who wish to enjoy the park can do so by preserving the Hawaiian history and culture that is displayed across the park.
About Haleakala National Park
At the heart of Haleakala National Park is the now-dormant Haleakala volcano. This volcano rises more than 10,000 feet above sea level, and it has formed more than three-quarters of Maui throughout its history. The volcanic crater dips 800 feet down and spans from seven miles across and two miles wide. Amidst the vast crater, volcanic cones rise up.
The park covers more than 52 square miles, which includes 38.6 square miles of protected wilderness. It is widely known for having more endangered plant and animal species than any other U.S. national park. While the volcano is a dominant feature in the park, there is also a stunning section known as Kipahulu. While the lower section of the Kipahulu Valley is accessible to the public, the upper section is the Kipahulu Valley Biological Reserve. This section is closed to the public. In the Kipahulu area of the park, you will find a rainforest ecosystem as well as the Waimoku Falls and a few dozen freshwater pools that are available for swimming.
Because of the diversity of the ecosystems and the range of elevations, the park has several climate conditions. At the lowest elevation, visitors can expect conditions for a tropical rainforest or tropical monsoon climate. At mid-level elevations, the conditions give way to an oceanic or Mediterranean climate. At the top of the volcano, you can expect alpine climate conditions. Because of this extensive variation, visitors should review the weather forecast and prepare for a wide range of weather conditions when preparing for their time at the park.
Top Ways to Experience Haleakala National Park
Haleakala is a Hawaiian word that translates to “house of the sun.” With this in mind, it is fitting that one of the most popular ways to experience the park is to watch the sunrise. From the Haleakala Visitor Center, you can admire the changing hues of lights radiating over the clouds. Because of the popularity of this breathtaking experience, a reservation must be made in advance. Many visitors also enjoy viewing the sunset from the volcano’s summit.
Another amazing way to explore the natural beauty of the park is through the hiking trails. The park’s landscapes include tropical forests, waterfalls, rock gardens, and barren volcanic lands, and all of these can be experienced across the myriad trails that wind through the park. You can also enjoy horseback riding and guided hikes. While you are exploring the park’s trails, you may spot some of the endangered plants and animals that are native to the area.
It takes roughly two hours to drive from Wailea or Kaanapali to Hakeakala’s summit. With both sunrise and sunset experiences to enjoy and so many ways to enjoy the park between dawn and dusk, some visitors choose to camp at the park. Rental cabins as well as campsites are available with a reservation.
Learn More and Get Involved!
The critical work of the Haleakala Conservancy continues today. The organization relies on donations to fund endeavors at the park, and donations can be made directly through their website here. You can also sign up to receive the organization’s newsletter and follow it on social media to stay informed about the latest programs that it is working on.
Get In Touch!
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