Hawaii National Park Created (1916)

On August 1, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill establishing Hawaii National Park as the nation’s 13th national park.  The original park included three volcanoes—Kilauea and Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii and Haleakala on the island of Maui.  In 1961, the areas on the two different islands were separated into two parks—Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii and Haleakala National Park on Maui.

The park’s features first came to the nation’s attention in the early 1840s, when the U.S. Exploring Expedition landed there as part of a surveying voyage through the South Pacific.  Their report stimulated the beginnings of tourism visits.  Mark Twain experienced Kilauea in 1866, declaring, “Here was room for the imagination to work.”  Although the park was established in 1916, little was done at first to make it accessible or to protect it.  As one congressman quipped, “It should not cost anything to run a volcano.”  Since that time, of course, Hawaii and its parks have become major tourist attractions.  In 2016, nearly 2 million visitors enjoyed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, making it the 14th most visited national park in the country.

The volcanoes of Hawaii are extraordinary for several reasons.  First, they are the most active volcanoes in the world, offering a continuous look at the geological forces that created our landscapes.  Second, they are the most gentle volcanoes, spewing lava and ash at a low rate that allows visitors to get close to these processes without endangering their lives (although great caution should be used and all rules and signs should be followed—these volcanoes are dangerous).  The viewing opportunity is spectacular and unique in the world.  The recent eruption of Kilauea is a contemporary example of both of these characteristics.

Lava fountain at Pu’u Kahauelea, 2008 (photo by J. D. Griggs)

Third, and most important for ecological reasons, the Hawaiian Islands are the most distant set of islands from a mainland anywhere in the world.  Consequently, the islands have developed a unique biota over 70 million years.  And because the volcanic activity is constantly adding new land and covering over existing lands with new rock surface, the entire area remains in the earliest successional stages, demonstrating nature’s ability to colonize the rawest of the earth’s environment.  Furthermore, Mauna Loa, as the world’s largest volcano, rises to more than 13,000 feet in elevation.  Adding the depth to the bottom of the crater (and additional 18,000 feet) makes this the highest mountain in the world from base to summit—higher by far than Mt. Everest.

The Hawaiian Islands contain 54 federally protected endangered and threatened species.  Among those is the Nene Goose, the state bird of Hawaii and a relative of the common Canada Goose.  But almost everything about the Nene Goose, from reproductive habits to habitat use and distribution, is so different from the Canada Goose that the Nene is critically endangered.  So is the Mauna Loa silversword, a plant that grows on the rocky slopes of the volcano and reproduces just once after decades of growth.  Subject to grazing by feral pigs, the Mauna Loa silversword was at one time down to a few individual plants.  Intense protection inside the park is now bringing the plant back.

Nene Goose, an endangered species found only on the island of Hawaii (photo by Matt MacGillivray)

Mauna Loa is also remarkable as a site for atmospheric research.  High on the mountain is the federal government’s Mauna Loa Observatory, famous for its continuous monitoring of carbon dioxide levels in the air, a series going back to the 1950s.  It is a perfect site for this work.  Sitting high on the slopes of the volcano, it lies above the inversion layer that can dramatically change surface conditions daily.  Because there is little or no vegetation growing there, the measurements are also unaffected by effects of plant metabolism, either removing or emitting chemicals into the air.  And because it is so far from the mainland, few local pollution sources impact its measurements.

References:

Earth System Research Laboratory.  About Mauna Loa Observatory.  U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.  Available at:  https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/mlo/aboutus/aboutus.html.  Accessed August 1, 2017.

Hamilton, Dwight.  History of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  National Park Service, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/kidsyouth/park-history.htm.  Accessed August 1, 2017.

HawaiiHistory.org.  Hawai’i National Park established.  Available at:  http://www.hawaiihistory.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ig.page&pageid=321. Accessed August 1, 2017.

National Park Service.  On the Brink of Extinction:  Paradise in Peril.  Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/nature/onthebrink.htm. Accessed August 1, 2017.

National Park Service.  Lieutenant Charles Wilkes.  Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/historyculture/lieutenant-charles-wilkes.htm. Accessed August 1, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

July 1
Duck Stamp Born (1934)
July 2
Morrill Act Created Land-Grant Universities (1862)
July 3
Great Auk Went Extinct (1844)
July 4
Stephen Mather, Founding Director of the National Park Service, Born (1867)
July 5
Yoshimaro Yamashina and Ernst Mayr, Ornithologists, Born (1900, 1904)
July 6
Maria Martin, Naturalist and Artist, Born (1796)
July 7
Alaska Admitted as a State (1958)
July 8
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July 9
Starbucks Abandoned Plastic Straws (2018)
July 10
Rainbow Warrior Bombed and sunk (1985)
July 11
World Population Day
July 12
Herbert Zim, Creator of “Golden Guides,” Born (1909)
July 13
Source of the Mississippi River Discovered (1832)
July 14
George Washington Carver National Monument Established (1943)
July 15
Emmeline Pankhurst, British Suffragette Leader, Born (1858)
July 16
UNESCO Added Giant Panda and Shark Sanctuaries to World Heritage List (2006)
July 17
Handel’s “Water Music” Premiered (1717)
July 18
Gilbert White, the “First Ecologist,” Born (1720)
July 19
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal, Created (1976)
July 20
Gregor Mendel, Pioneering Geneticist, Born (1822)
July 21
Aswan High Dam Opened (1970)
July 22
Ratcatcher’s Day
July 23
Commercial Whaling Banned (1982)
July 24
Machu Picchu Discovered (1911)
July 25
Jim Corbett, Tiger Conservationist, Born (1875)
July 26
James Lovelock, Originator of the Gaia Theory, Born (1919)
July 27
Przewalski’s horse gave birth by artificial insemination (2013)
July 28
Beatrix Potter, Author and Conservationist, Born (1866)
July 29
International Tiger Day
July 30
Golden Spike National Historical Park Created (1965)
July 31
Curt Gowdy, Sportscaster and Conservationist, Born (1919)
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