Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Musings: Alien Invaders

As Koko and I were walking back from the beach, we encountered two roosters fighting in the middle of the path, kicking up a lot of dust as they squawked and beat their wings and butted chests. Then they spotted Koko, straining at her leash, and quickly forgot their differences, running off in separate directions.

Came home to discover it’s snowing in my yard. No, not the pretty flakes that become drifts and snowmen, but African tulip tree seeds. Wrapped in their little cellophane-like packets, they’re made to travel on the wind and that’s exactly what they do, floating along and then touching down to blanket the lawn, the garden, the taro patch in a thin layer of white.

They’re the quintessential invasive species — fine in their native land, but over here, aggressive, opportunistic and once they gain a foothold, nearly impossible to eradicate or even control. And as I thought about them, it struck me that the very same scenario is under way with people in Hawaii, too.

Think about it. Just as Hawaii has many imported plants that are beautiful, benign or beneficial — those that provide food, delight the senses and are content to stay where they’re planted — the same is true for a lot of people.

And then we’ve got imported plants that are noxious, prickly and poisonous, and some that are invasive, moving quickly across the landscape, destroying all in their path, and still others that crowd out and smother the native species that evolved here for centuries unmolested and so never had a chance to adapt to that kind of aggressive competition.

I’m sure you can see the parallels to human behavior, what with the developers and the iwi desecrators, and the mainland mentality perpetrators, and the folks who absolutely must have the same stores/services they had "back home" and those who have absolutely no interest in learning about anything native, much less protecting it.

Of course, what you end up with, once invasive species take hold, is a homogenous environment that’s largely dysfunctional because it’s not appropriate to the place that's been overrun. A perfect example are the invaders that are smothering the native plants that support our watersheds. It’s also an environment devoid of its diversity, its uniqueness — the qualities that once made it special and distinct. And once that rare native ecosystem is destroyed, it's gone for good.

While conservationists can apply a lethal dose of herbicide to Australian tree ferns consuming the native forest, no acceptable control measures currently exist for the invasive humans who are inflicting no less damage as they slowly but surely crowd out the natives.

This musing made me think of a comment made by my friend Kepa Maly, a cultural practitioner and director of the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center.

“What was on the verge of extinction first?” he asked, when I visited him on Lanai earlier this year. “It wasn’t Hawaii's animals, plants or birds. It was the people.”

Now, largely because of invasive species, it’s all on the ropes.


Anonymous said...

There are only two questions left:
How far is the fall and how long will it take.

No "survivors" on this "plane crash". Oh, they can scream, yell, pray, move around to a part of the "plane" they think will give them a higher shot at survival, but in the end, nothing will work.

Just a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

Even if it was only natives living here, and there had never been an annexation, there would still be the same issues of development and change - some supporting it, some against it. It's not as though the natives as a body don't like Costco and Walmart. Sure, there are whites who come from the mainland and want the same conveniences from home. But there's another phenomenon as well. Other whites come from the mainland and want the surroundings to remain quaint and wonderfully separate from the mainland. That's what attracted them to move here. But that's not to say many natives agree with those whites. The natives want jobs and they want tvs and they want western lifestyles as well as to integrate the elements of their culture that they choose to integrate into that western lifestyle. The whites who oppose change and development can't claim any moral superiority. Although they don't admit it to themselves, they are just as selfish as anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Any non-Hawaiian might be considered an invasive species. They don't have to be white to have impacted and changed the enviroment.
But perhaps all humans on these remote islands should be considered invasive.
Just because a culture is first to set up housekeeping and change the enviroment to assure survival doesn't mean their right.