The remote location of the Aloha state, combined with many other unique land factors, once led to an explosion of biodiversity in the islands—more than 90 percent of all plants and animals that lived here were found nowhere else in the world.
Sadly, human development and the introduction of invasive species have drastically affected these plants and animals, giving Hawaii the title of “the endangered species capital of the world.” Here are just a few of the endangered species only found in Hawaii.
Hawaiian monk seal
Hawaiians cleverly named this seal ‘ilio holo i ka uaua,’ or ‘the dog that runs in rough water.’ There are less than 2,000 Hawaiian monk seals in the wild, and they are one of just two monk seal species that has not faced extinction—the second being the Mediterranean monk seal. The large earless seals can be found regularly basking in the sun on beaches throughout the main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Locally called the Maui Nui ʻalauahio, this yellow-bellied honeycreeper has only been spotted in a few places on the island of Maui. Haleakalā National Park is one of the best places to see the bird because of its protected status. There are 95 endemic bird species in Hawaii that are already extinct, and 33 of the 44 species left are listed as endangered.
Red and white Kauaʻi rosemallow
These two species of hibiscus can only be found in very specific locations on the island of Kauaʻi. The white flowering plant only grows on the west and south regions, such as in Waimea Canyon, while the red variety is critically endangered and grows only in the Nounou Mountains in the east.
Hawaiian Hoary Bat
ʻŌpeʻapeʻa (half-leaf)–referring to the bat’s shape—is a rare species of bat only found in a few areas of Kauaʻi and the Big Island due to habitation loss. It’s unknown exactly how many are left, though conservationists estimate anywhere from just a few hundred to a few thousand.
A famous local legend depicts the ‘alae ‘ula (Hawaiian Moorhen) as unwillingly giving humans the secret of fire. These red-beaked birds have been listed as endangered since 1967 since urban development has destroyed much of their natural habitat. A good place to see various endangered wetland birds is Kawainui Nui Marsh on O‘ahu.
Mauna Kea silversword
This endangered plant only grows at high elevation on the slopes of the Mauna Kea volcano, although there is a similar subspecies designated as threatened that lives just within Haleakalā crater on Maui. The shimmering silverswords, known as ʻahinahina in Hawaiian, can live up to 90 years, but flower just once before dying.