Restoration Ecology in Hawaii

Restoration Ecology ~ Limahuli Botanical Garden and Preserve
by -- March 18th, 2013

Hawaii – I always envisioned a lush land of coffee trees, coconut palms and strawberry guava. Our first day on the  job has forever changed my perspective. We started our restoration ecology journey at Limahuli Botanical Garden and Preserve on the north shore of Kauai near Hanalei Bay. The preserve setting is a strip of land full of lush plants and showy flowers. The dedicated practitioners at the preserve are working tirelessly to restore the native plant populations and educate the public on the importance of restoring Kauai’s native tropical forests.

Preparing to hike our native plants into Limahuli forest for planting.

After putting on some bug spray, we carefully chose the native plants we would be planting and prepared for the journey up the mountain to the project site. As we hiked, we passed through several phases of restoration, some decades old.  Each phase demonstrated the successful and not-so-successful restoration experiments conducted in this forest.

Restoration ecology at the preserve seems to follow the tria- and-error method.  Traditional techniques involved clear-cutting the invasive plants completely, then planting natives in their place.  The delicate baby understory plants were then subjected to full sunlight resulting in high attrition.  The latest method being implementing seems to be much more successful.  They are leaving the invasive canopy plants until the delicate native understory is established.  The impressive part of this work is that one project will not demonstrate if it was successful for decades.  Restoration ecology work is not for the impatient soul.

Just before reaching the destination, we dedicated our offerings to the forest with a beautiful Hawaiian chant.  Our guide, JC, led us with his melodious voice echoing through the canyon.  Many of us unwilling to murder the Hawaiian language respectfully bowed our heads and listened.  We connected with the forest, with our plants, and with each other.

We finally reach the project site and none too soon. The bugs were out in force.  After the steep journey we felt a connection to our plants. I was eager to give my potted babies, lovingly named Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, back to Kauai. I wanted my plant to have the best opportunity to succeed.  It needed to succeed. We stood in a clearing under tall invasive trees protecting the new plants. Our tiny plot of land was vastly different than the forest surrounding us.  Thick invasive coffee trees obstructed our view of the forest. John carefully and quietly took in the landscape waiting for the forest to tell him where to plant his gangly awkward plants. Sergio dug right in planting “Mary” next the protection of a lava rock outcrop.  We felt a tinge of guilt for not figuring out how to carry more.

After planting, we joined forces to tackle another section of the project site.  It was weeding time.  It looked formidable.  Thankfully the soft damp earth allowed for easy pulling allowing us to destroy vast amounts of weeds and coffee seedlings.  In the end, we made a difference.  This short journey to Limahuli changed my perspective of restoration and Kauai.  Now when I see a strawberry guava tree, instead of excitement I feel sadness.

©2016 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff