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A Guide to Kauaʻi’s Endangered Species and How to Help

As the oldest island in the chain, Kauaʻi has had centuries to develop a host of native wildlife only found here. Unfortunately, many species are threatened or endangered as a result of the introduction of new plant and animal species that came along with migration to the island. The good news is that the community’s kuleana (responsibility) to preserve native species has spurred environmental groups into action. Here are some plant and animal species here on Kauaʻi, and how you can help them to thrive:

Ne'e Ne'e birds of Kauai

Brake for Nēnē 

The state bird, the nēnē goose, has had a successful repopulation on Kauaʻi although they are still endangered. Once near extinction, laws were put into place to protect the nēnē, with crossing signs and lowered speed limits to advise drivers of their common locations. The price for killing these birds is a very hefty fine, so be sure to brake for nēnē! Wildlife reserves for safe nesting have been put into place, and many natural predators have been weeded out through conservation efforts and education. A bird of deep cultural significance in Hawaiʻi, the nēnē goose is mentioned in many ancient Hawaiian chants and respected as a spiritual guardian of the ʻāina.

Hawaiian monk seals

Hawaiian Monk Seal (ʻĪlioholoikauaua)

Often spotted at Poʻipū Beach Park, Salt Pond, and many other beaches on Kauaʻi, the Hawaiian Monk Seal (ʻĪlioholoikauaua) are best known for napping. They make their way ashore to digest after feeding, which creates an irresistible selfie opportunity. However, it is important to keep a minimum distance of 30 feet and not to come between the seal and the ocean. If disturbed, the seal might return to the water before being fully rested, which puts them at risk for becoming easy prey. Just remember: Do not disturb, and zoom in for the picture. The Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui and Kauaʻi Monk Seal Watch Program do a great job of roping off an area when a monk seal emerges, but it is important to know the rules should you encounter one in a remote location.

birds of Niihau

Coastal Birds

While enjoying the view on tour, you will be sure to see a myriad of coastal birds swooping along the Nāpali, or diving into the water for a snack. The wide-spanning Great Frigatebird (‘Iwa) and Laysan Albatross (Moli) can often be spotted without binoculars, while the Newell’s Shearwater (‘A’o) and Band-rumped Storm Petrel (‘Ake’ake) are a little more difficult to spot from afar. Shearwaters are an endangered species native to Kauaʻi, and you may see signs to stay on coastal paths from April – November during their nesting season. Their decline in population can be chalked up to numerous environmental issues, habitat loss, and sometimes unleashed pets! Our friends at the Kauaʻi Endangered Seabird Recovery Project are working hard to repopulate these threatened seabirds by providing tips on how to keep them safe.

spinner dolphins

Spinner Dolphin (Nai’a)

Spinner dolphins, like all marine mammals, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA.) They love to join us on tour and ride the wake of our catamarans. As the first tour boat company in Hawaiʻi to invest in cutting-edge energy-efficient diesel marine technology, we try to be as mindful as possible of our environmental impact. Although we love watching our playful friends jump alongside our vessels, we are sure not to feed them or approach pods to create a disturbance. Learn more about how to best protect our dolphin friends here.

Kauai honu

Image by Kauaʻi Photographer – Kit Furderer

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (Honu)

Hawaiian green sea turtles, or honu, are native to Hawaiʻi, and often spotted on our snorkeling tours, or riding a wave! They can grow up to four feet and 300 lbs, so they are hard to miss.  There has been a dip in the honu population due to pollution and overfishing. The best way to preserve the wellbeing of sea turtles (and all marine life) is to keep  a safe distance and keep the beaches clean. Entanglement in marine debris is an issue, so beach clean-ups are a great way to pitch in. Turtles will often come ashore as well, and keeping at least a 10 foot perimeter is recommended. Visit the NOAA marine turtles site and the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office turtle site for more information on how to best protect the honu in Hawaiʻi.

Endangered fern – Palai lāʻau (Adenophorus periens)

According to the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) more than one-third of all tropical plants are threatened with extinction. Because of the Hawaiian islands’ geographically isolated location, the evolution of plant species is highly endemic (found only in one location.) Although ferns seem to be unremarkable and sprouting up everywhere, this species is specific to Kauaʻi and on the decline. The population of ferns and all plants is so important because they are part of the ecosystem that produces healthy forests, and a larger part of the food chain. Steps to help revive endangered plant species include seed conservation, living collections of at-risk plants and trees, and the propagation of dying species. Take a tour or volunteer at one of the NTBG locations to see first-hand what’s growing!

We hope you will join us as we work with our community partners towards a more sustainable Kauaʻi. Stay tuned for ways to get involved!

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