by Diane Haynes Woodburn
pub“We need a miracle,” a friend said to me the other day. She was referring to her husband’s health. “Miracles do happen, right?” Yes, I nodded sincerely.
Miracles do happen. Not all are as dramatic as Moses parting the seas or manna falling from heaven, but they happen. If you look carefully, if you pay attention, you can find wonder in the smallest of things.
Take the happy-face spider, whose photo appears in our story on Auwahi forest. At just five millimeters (long, spindly legs included), this miniscule arachnid with the bright smiley-face markings is one of Hawai‘i’s endemic species, a native inhabitant found nowhere else on Earth. And how did this tiny traveler that the Hawaiians called nananana makaki‘i (“mask spider”) arrive at the world’s most isolated landmass? Most likely by “ballooning”—carried aloft on a strand of web lifted by the trade winds—a tiny, prototypical kite-surfer. Talk about a small miracle.
Nananana makaki‘i is among 9,975 known endemic Hawaiian species. Each and every one of their pioneering ancestors had to make an arduous journey across thousands of miles of ocean before they could attempt to establish a foothold here. Scientists estimate that for every individual that survived the trip, perhaps millions failed. Those that succeeded evolved into species the Earth had never seen.
Many won’t be seen again. In the last 200 years, thanks to human activity, Hawai‘i has lost more than 270 native plant and animal species. More than 395 others are on the endangered-species list; more than 50 percent of all endangered species in the United States are right here in these islands.
Fortunately, so are folks we consider environmental heroes, ordinary people who are making extraordinary efforts to safeguard our corner of the planet. In this, our annual environmental issue, you’ll meet a few of them, men and women who put their ingenuity, muscle and resources where their heart is, protecting our forests, coastlines, reefs and oceans; sharing their knowledge; and leading the rest of us by example.
Like the diversity of life here, our heroes perform their miracles in many different ways. For example, Darrell Tanaka grew up fishing with lay nets, as his father and grandfather did, but became an advocate for banning them; and has established a spearfishing tournament that’s good for native fish. Environmental entrepreneur Wilma Nakamura finds creative ways to teach recycling, from worm tea to “trash art.” Bob Hobdy employs the wisdom of his forty-year career in Forestry & Wildlife in a very active retirement of consulting and volunteering.
One name that reverberates through this issue is that of the Erdman family, owners of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch. For decades, these model stewards of the land have used sustainable means of ranching, supported other agricultural enterprises, and worked with Dr. Art Medeiros to restore and preserve Auwahi, a native dryland forest that was one generation away from extinction. Their latest gift to Maui: collaboration with the Maui Coastal Land Trust to protect 11,000 acres of ranchland and wilderness in perpetuity, from the mountain to the shore, including all of Auwahi. And with Auwahi, the indigenous birds, insects and plants that comprise a native-forest ecosystem, the happy-face spider among them.
I think of my friend, and the tough journey ahead for her and her husband. Survival is no small task. It takes grit, some help, and sometimes a miracle. So it’s comforting to know that miracles can be found; sometimes it’s as small and essential as a smile.