Prior to the arrival of the first Polynesian canoes nearly 1,500 years ago, Hawaii's natural wetlands provided habitat for resident and migratory waterbirds. Among the natural wetlands were forested bogs, streams, estuaries, lakes and coastal marshes. In the two centuries since the first European ships reached the islands, most of the wetlands have been degraded. As early as the 1850s, significant losses in wetland habitat began with the conversion of wetlands to taro and then crops such as rice and sugarcane. More recently, urbanization of lowland, coastal areas, particularly on Oahu, has accelerated the conversion or alteration of wetlands. Most degraded wetland systems are now occupied by hotels, houses, golf courses, shopping centers, landfills, military installations, highways, agricultural fields and industrial sites. Protection and restoration of Hawaii's wetlands are essential to the recovery of the endemic waterbirds, as well as the migrant waterfowl and shorebirds.
Importance to waterfowl
- Among the most common species of migrant waterfowl are northern pintail, northern shoveler, lesser scaup, American wigeon and Eurasian wigeon.
- Nearly 30 species of migratory ducks and geese and more than 30 species of migratory shorebirds use the Hawaiian Islands.
- Introduction of exotic species has negatively impacted waterbird species.
- A major threat to the Hawaiian duck is hybridization with increasing numbers of resident feral mallards.
- Introduction of the mongoose has resulted in a very serious threat to ground nesting birds.
DU's conservation focus
- Define each major wetland area on the islands that can contribute to restoration of waterbird populations in Hawaii.
- Secure protected status, either in private or public ownership, for all major wetland areas.
- Restore and enhance important wetland areas that are degraded.
- Increase all endangered waterbird populations above 2,000 individuals, with the exception of the Laysan duck where a goal of tripling the current population is feasible.