The Hawaiian Islands have a wide variety of plant, marine and animal life. Vegetation zones include: coastal, dryland forest, mixed open forest, rain forest, subalpine and alpine. More than 90 percent of the native plants and animals living in Hawaii are found nowhere else in the world, and a greater variety of fish exist in Hawaiian waters than elsewhere. The humuhumunukunukuapuaa is the official state fish. Hawaii is sometimes called the Endangered Species Capital of the World. At least one third of all the endangered species in the United States are found in Hawaii including the Nene goose (official state bird), the humpback whale (official state marine mammal), the Pacific green sea turtle and the Pueo (Hawaiian owl). The exotic species, man, poses a greater threat than nature to Hawaii's native flora and fauna.
Hawaii is the most remote island chain in the world, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest landfall. Distance makes for splendid isolation.
Hawaii Geography & Geology
Hawaii is the most remote island chain in the world, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest landfall. Distance makes for splendid isolation - these Polynesian islands are removed from all else but one another. Hawaii consists of eight major islands plus 124 minor islands, reefs and shoals, strung like a necklace across the Pacific for over 1,500 miles. The eight major islands (which make up over 99 percent of the total land area) are Oahu, Maui, Hawaii (known as the Big Island), Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe (uninhabited) and Niihau (privately owned). Each of the major islands has an identity all its own. Oahu is as different from Molokai and Maui as Kauai is from Lanai and the Big Island - each as varied and colorful as the official state flower, the hibiscus. With their collective mass of 4.1 million acres or 6,450 square miles, these islands form the fourth smallest state in the United States. Beyond mere geography, to Hawaiians the land is "mother." The Hawaiian word for land, 'aina, literally means "that which feeds." It doesn't belong to us; we belong to it, and are part of it.
Hawaii's story is the story of creation - islands born from the Pacific depths some 40 million years ago. Hawaii has been shaped by the capricious forces of fire, magma, rains, and winds - and now, most recently, by man. About 30 miles southwest of the active volcano Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii, the newest island in the chain, Loihi, is forming - the newest land on earth. Stretching toward the northwest from Loihi are the other major Hawaiian Islands: Big Island, and then Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau.
Hawaii Cultural History
The Hawaiian Islands are stepping stones linking east to west. Here Polynesian sensuality, American pragmatism and Oriental exoticism weave a tapestry of cultural extremes. Hawaii's multicultural society has had major immigration from: Polynesia 700 A.D., United States 1820, China 1852, Japan 1868. From their "discovery" by Captain James Cook in 1778 - at which time each island was a separate kingdom - the Hawaiian Islands passed through several stages. These included the status of a United Kingdom under Kamehameha the Great, a Republic, and then a U.S. Territory until, finally, in 1959, Congress passed the bill that made Hawaii the 50th State of the United States.
The Hawaiian Islands have attracted human migrants in waves, first the Polynesians, then the whalers, the sandalwood merchants, the missionaries, the sugar planters and ranchers, the multi-ethnic traders and laborers, and finally the tourists. With a resident population of 1.3 million, Hawaii has an average population density statewide of approximately 200 people per square mile. Island living is a test of tolerance. Hawaii is probably the only place in the United States, if not the world, where every single racial group is a minority - one of the world's most harmonious gatherings of people. At least a third of the population is of mixed ancestry. According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a study conducted in 1984 estimated that there were only 8,244 pure Hawaiians - about 0.7 percent of Hawaii's total population - a vanishing race. By 2006, some thought the number could be less than 5,000.
Hawaii’s economy is healthy; however, the state's cost of living is among the highest in the nation, ranging from 30 percent above the national average to over 60 percent depending upon family size and circumstances. Tourism is the major contributor to Hawaii’s economy. The Islands host over 7 million people each year whose total expenditures exceed $12 billion. With the demise of its sugar and pineapple industries in the 1990s, Hawaii is working to diversify its economy with a focus on industries such as science and technology, health and wellness tourism, diversified agriculture, ocean research and development, and film and television production.