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Here you can explore the breathtaking beauty
of the Hawaiian Islands through our exclusive HD video and photo resources (see below) — among the most comprehensive in the state. Then choose from the world's finest aerial tours, offered at fares that give you maximum vacation value, by the world's most honored helicopter tour company. Blue Hawaiian, Hawaii's best
A Special Place
Help us preserve some of the world’s most delicate ecosystems.
Across vast expanses of ocean, life came to the Hawaiian Islands in the form of seeds, spores, insects, spiders, birds, and small plants. They drifted on the wind, floated on ocean currents, or hitched a ride on migrating or storm-driven birds. Many groups of organisms (amphibians, reptiles, social insects, and all land mammals except earlier ancestors of the monk seal and of bats) were unable to make the long journey, while some arrived but did not survive in their new home. It is estimated that an average of only one species every 35,000 years successfully colonized the islands. The survivors found themselves in a land of vast opportunity. The Hawaiian Islands are a mosaic of habitats, from rain forest to alpine, often in close proximity. The changes in habitats are awe inspiring to see by helicopter. In the surrounding ocean, rainfall averages 25-30 inches annually. Yet the Hawaiian Islands trap moist trade winds and receive rainfall ranging from more than 400 inches annually on the windward side of the mountins to less than 10 inches on the leeward side. Average temperatures range from 75°F at sea level to 40°F at the summit of the highest volcanoes. Isolated by the sea, these mountains have created an extremely diverse environment in a small area.
The colonizers gradually adapted to the environment of the islands and to life without predators and competitors of their homelands. Eventually most evolved into entirely new (and often defenseless) species found nowhere else in the world. The roughly 10,000 native species of flora and fauna of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have evolved from about 2,000 colonizing ancestral species. The isolation that has made the plants and animals of the Hawaiian Islands unique also makes them vulnerable to rapid changes brought on by humans. Hawaiian species often cope poorly with habitat alterations, foreign diseases, predation, and competition from introduced species. (Today about 20 alien species are introduced to the islands every year.) Thus, active intervention by conservation managers is essential to the survival of the natural heritage of Hawaii.
Diversity in Hawaii
Found at the highest elevations, the alpine/aeolian zone appears barren. Rainfall sinks rapidly in the porous, rocky ground, whose bare surface becomes summer every day, winter every night. Few plant species can establish seedlings in this harsh environment, and plant cover is sparse; only a few hardy shrubs, grasses, and the 'ahinahina (silversword)survive at high altitudes on Haleakala on Maui. Unique communities of insects and spiders thrive by feeding on wind-imported insects, other organic matter, and moisture from lower elevations.
The subalpine shrubland covers areas below the alpine/aeolian zone and above the forest line. More than a dozen species of shrubs and grasses inhabit this zone, many found nowhere else on Earth. Shrubs are sparse in the shallow soils at higher elevations, but form dense thickets where soils are deeper. The shrubs provide food for many bird species, including the nene (Hawaiian goose).
Rain forests occupy the windward slopes of Hawaiian Islands. Annual rainfall ranges from 120 inches to 400 inches or more. The forest canopy is dominated by 'ohia trees in the upper elevations, grading into mixed ohia and koa canopy at lower levels. Diverse vegetation-smaller trees, ferns, shrubs, and herbs-grows in the understory. One of the most intact rain forest ecosystems in Hawaii, the Kipahulu Valley on Maui is home to numerous rare birds, insects, and spiders.
The dry forest zones are found on the leeward slopes in areas with 20 to 60 inches of annual rainfall. Dry forests may once have been more extensive than rain forests, but browsing animals, grass invasions, and fire have drastically reduced them.
Cutting across several life zones, stream ecosystems hosting fish, shrimp, and limpets meet the lowland/coastal zone. These low elevation ecosystems have been more heavily modified by humans than any other life zone. Native shrubs and herbaceous plants remain only in pockets along the coast.
Sharks, octopi, green sea turtles, humpback whales (winter only), and fish inhabit the coastal waters. Many of the native stream dwellers in the Hawaiian Islands were originally ocean species that over time adapted to live in fresh water. The O'opu (gobies), bottom fish with froglike faces, spend their adult lives in streams. After adults spawn, their eggs are washed out to sea. As hatchlings, the young o'opu migrate back up to freshwater pools where they began their lives. Suction cups (actually fused fins) on their bellies aid the o'opu in their upstream journey.
Endemic species evolved in the Hawaiian Islands from ancestral colonizers and are unique to specific areas. Foreign species of plants and animals introduced purposely or accidentally by humans are known as aliens. Alien species have reduced populations of native Hawaiian species and in some cases threaten their survival. Aggressive alien plants, such as Kahili ginger, can spread into remote forests, displacing native vegetation. Goats eliminate vegetation, resulting in severe erosion. Mongooses, orginally brought to the Hawaiian Islands to control rats in sugar cane fields, prey on the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds.
The State of Hawaii comprises only two-tenths of a percent of the total U.S. land area, yet one-third of the plants and birds listed or considered for listing on the Federal Endangered Species List are Hawaiian. The impact of human activities on native species and ecosystems cannot be completely undone, but active management is limiting and even reversing some of the damage. Today's natural area managers in the national park system build fences, control alien species, restore native vegatation, and work to increase our knowledge of Hawaiian ecosystems.
A helicopter tour has less impact on the environment while giving you a unique perspective of the diversity of Hawaii. Help us preserve some of the world's most delicate ecosystems.
Live Guest Reviews
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