Mokio Preserve

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Albatross decoys are equipped with sound boxes that mimick, and, hopefully, attract the real thing.

In 1868, westerners introduced axis deer to Moloka‘i, and they joined the ranks of other destructive invasives: cattle, cats, mongooses and kiawe (mesquite) trees. Kiawe has roots that spread deep and wide, depleting groundwater and crowding out native plants. What few plants the kiawe didn’t kill were relentlessly grazed by deer; cats slaughtered ground-nesting birds, and mongooses devoured the eggs. The coastal shrub naupaka kahakai once carpeted the area in green, but by 2012 you could count the number of plants on a single hand.

Just six years later, you can stand at the preserve’s Anapuka dune restoration site and count naupaka by the thousands. Yellow flowers from native nehe shrubs dance and wave in the breeze, and the endemic fern ihi‘ihilauākea peeks from cracks in the rocks. It’s found only on Moloka‘i and O‘ahu—and Mokio has the largest population in the state.

So, what happened?

Formed in 2006 as a community-based nonprofit, the Molokai Land Trust began managing Mokio Preserve in 2008. For decades, Molokai Ranch had owned the land and raised cattle here. In 2012, the ranch donated the acreage to the Molokai community for conservation and traditional practices.

Island residents hunt deer here on weekends—a practice regulated through a pass system—and Molokai Land Trust allows fishing from April through October when conditions are calm along the shore. Hawaiians are harvesting food here again, but it’s the ecological restoration that offers the greatest hope.

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