Friday, January 6, 2012

This Great Ark of Islands

I’m sitting on an island in the middle of the Pacific under the branches of a massive monkey pod tree watching a gecko drink the water condensing on my plastic cup.

It’s staggering if I think too hard about how all the flora and fauna on this island either came from somewhere else or evolved from what came from somewhere else.

My friend and classmate says that there weren’t geckos like these when we were growing up here. True, there weren’t chameleons either. Neither were there the green sea turtles that now feed and haul out in the shallows of Alii Beach Park. And, if some bad actors stop harassing and killing endangered monk seals, those will have a chance to live here as well.

When I was growing up in Honolulu, I’d take for granted the mynah birds, the grey doves, the Chinese ringed-neck doves, house finches and mejiro. Over the years returning to Oahu, I’ve seen cockatiels, parrots and parakeets in the trees in Manoa Valley and the black and white-capped, pink-beaked Java rice birds in the lawns and playgrounds.

My mother’s house needs to be treated for termites that can eat through the foundation and joists. She keeps a clean house so the cockroaches and ants stay outside. A few years ago, there was an infestation of white flies that killed a number of the ubiquitous plumeria trees.

The classic cases of unanticipated consequences is the introduction of the mongoose to control the rat populations in the sugar cane fields. The mongoose ate birds and bird eggs and reproduced like — well, mongoose. Only the islands of Lanai and Kauai have been spared the invasion of the mongoose.

The African snails that invaded Oahu in the ‘50s weren’t as big as the monster snails being found these days in Florida but big enough to clear cut through local succulents. They were controlled by introducing the rosy wolfsnail which, unfortunately, devoured all kinds of snails.

These are islands and efforts are made to keep infestations isolated. The latest battle involves the coqui frog whose booming population infests the Big Island of Hawaii and Maui and now is being found on Oahu and Kauai. Besides having a voracious appetite for insects and spiders, the din of the frogs at night soon passes from a quaint appreciation to a maddening nuisance. (Listen here)

I think about how all the flora and fauna on this island either came from somewhere else or evolved from what came from somewhere else. I’m staggered.

--Mike Sato


  1. This is fascinating, Mike, and I love the photo of the gecko drinking off the side of your cup! AS you know, I live on a small island too, but of course all of the Gulf Islands, mine included, are relatively close to the mainland and the "big island" (Vancouver Is.), unlike Hawaii - so the flora/fauna are pretty similar. Nevertheless, a few of the species are different here than on the mainland coast of BC - eg. chestnut-backed chickadees here, but black-capped chickadees aren't found on Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands. Interesting to ponder on why this might be so.

  2. Beautiful writing. Keep it coming. And if there is a way to see this on FB let me know Mike.

    Thanks for the warm sunny weather you beamed to Seattle in that story. I felt it midst the geckos, the turtles and the termites.

    Timothy Colman

  3. Thanks, Tim. I post a link to the blogs on my Twitter (savepugetsound) and personal FB and LinkedIn accounts. Mike


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