Hawai‘i’s Last Dunes Are Home To Species Found Nowhere Else on the Planet
by Josh Silberg/Hakai Magazine/Smithsonianmag.com
This article is from Hakai Magazine, an online publication about science and society in coastal ecosystems. Read more stories like this at hakaimagazine.com.
This is not the Hawai‘i from the airplane magazine spread. No palm trees, beach chairs, umbrellaed cocktails, or perfect surf breaks. I’ve come to the island of Moloka‘i, tucked between O‘ahu, Maui, and Lāna‘i, to see a slice of Hawai‘i few tourists choose to see—a stretch of coastline covered with dunes, hardy plants, and rare species found nowhere else on the planet.
From mountaintop forests to coral reefs, the Hawaiian Islands, like most isolated island groups, are an evolutionary playground for plants and animals. A whole suite of species evolved into new forms after arriving on these volcanic landmasses. Some of the most interesting is on display on Moloka‘i’s windswept northwestern shore in the Mo‘omomi Preserve, the site of one of Hawai‘i’s last intact sand dune ecosystems.
To get to Mo‘omomi, I drive down a heavily rutted old pineapple plantation road until an empty grass-covered parking lot overlooking the ocean comes into view. As I hop out of the truck, a frigatebird overhead catches the wind and soars west over kilometers of cliffs, beaches, and dunes…