The Big Island is beautiful. There is no question about the stunning beauty, the abundance of beautiful birds and the wonders of nature. Akaka Falls and the Hamakua Coast, the majestic volcano mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and the wonderous sense of space. Being on the Big Island again was like meeting a girl you were crazy about but never really got to know very well a decade after you had both moved on with life. The Big Island is pregnant with possibilities. And, there are also some very real dangers.
The first that comes to mind is Rapid Ohia Death – this is a relatively new phenomenon where a form of Ceratocystis fimbriata – a root fungus is killing the large Ohia trees all over the island.
The Ohia tree (aka Ohia Lehua or sometimes just as Lehua thought that is usually the word used for the flower) is endemic to Hawai’i and is often one of the first plants to grow on lava – it is a tree closely associated with the volcano goddess Pele. I should point out that endemic means that a species developed here and is not found in nature anywhere else on the planet. There are five species of ohia that are endemic to Hawai’i. The Hawaiian islands are home to a great variety of endemic species because they are the most remote landmass on the planet and on the islands you can find nearly every climactic zone where life thrives from desert to tropical to temperate, etc. Unfortunately, the isolation in which speciation occurred made the unique species of these islands susceptable to disease and pressure from invasive species. A great many of the unique species of Hawai’i have gone extinct and a great many more are endangered. Many of the endangered species rely on the habitat created by the Ohia forests…so, in 2015 when huge swaths of Ohia began dying rapidly – there was panic. The fungus killing them has been identified, but the source of the fungus is unknown and a solution to the growing problem has not yet been discovered.
And of course, there are other Big Island dangers. Volcanos, malaria, West Nile Virus, and other tropical mosquito borne pathogens.
The Big Island is bigger than all the other islands combined. I only saw a tiny portion of it on this trip, but it was enough to know that this place is precious. On my last morning on the Big Island (this trip) I drove North from Hilo to Hakalau Bay, I didn’t have time to hike or really dive in – I was just soaking in an impression. I stopped briefly at Akaka Falls and Kolekole State Park – I stopped to help a stranded motorist with a broken down car, but she was busy doing Facetime with her mom and said a tow-truck was on the way so I didn’t stick around. I just drove and enjoyed the driving.
I stopped and bought a plate lunch (to go) and then drove to the airport and returned my rental car. I did better on timing this go round – I was only one hour early for my flight but from Big Island to Oahu, I would have been fine with a half hour or maybe even 15 minutes. No wait, no line, no problem.