Friday, October 24, 2014

The Decline of the Silverswords

Haleakala National Park




"Where are all the silverswords?"  I wondered out loud as we neared the summit of Mt. Haleakala in Maui.  Thirty-five years ago the slopes were covered with these silver spiked plants.  I remember being so mesmerized by what looked like ice on red sand.   I couldn't wait to see it again.

But where were they?

And then at the Visitor's Center we saw one lonely specimen and then the poster.  Oh no.  We read further. These beautiful plants, found only on the slopes of Haleakala, are now endangered.  Climate change is the culprit.

Over the past 20 years, rainfall on this mountain has decreased and air temperatures have risen.  Immature plants are dying so seedlings are becoming rarer and rarer.  Once upon a time, thousands upon thousands of seeds would be dispersed by the wind from one single flower stalk.  These plants could live up to 50 years.  They flowered only once before dying, but spawned a whole new generation in the process.

No more.

At the summit, a sorry-looking garden nearly broke my heart.  Planted on an island surrounded by a concrete parking lot, these exotic plants can still be seen but not how Mother Earth intended.  I tried my best to pretend they were once again wild and free.  I took close-up photographs with no cars in the background.



When I returned from Hawaii I was browsing in my favorite bookstore (in the travel section, of course) and found an interesting book to add to my growing collection of travel guides:  500 Places to See Before They Disappear, and sure enough, on Page 219 was "The Slopes of Mount Haleakala."  There are more threatened species here than at any other U.S. National Park.  Evidently, the Silversword is just one of many.

Park rangers are trying hard to save the remaining plants and stabilize the population.  A restoration project is in full swing.  

It's easy to get depressed, but I'm trying hard not to.  Climate change is a fact.  Our world is changing right before our eyes.  Heat from burning fossil fuels is being trapped in the atmosphere.  Glaciers are melting.  South Pacific atolls are disappearing under a rising sea.  Many plant and animal species are struggling to live like Maui's Silversword.

It makes travel even that much more important.  We are witnesses to a world in transition.  I have no doubt we will adapt and meet the challenges ahead.  We are heading into exciting times.  Get your cameras out, people!  The world is changing.














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