World Environment Day
by Sharon Higa | June 5, 2020
This year’s theme for World Environment Day, June 5, is biodiversity which refers to the variety of life within an ecosystem or environment. That’s every living species from plants and animals to, yes, even fungus and bacteria found on land, in forests, the ocean, a coral reef, and your own backyard.
On this day, we highlight the eye-catching iiwi (pronounced ee-EE-vee) or scarlet honeycreeper, a distant relative of the finch family. This brightly-colored, high elevation forest bird reminds us how living things on earth are all connected and why we must care #ForNature.
Once abundant in Hawaii, iiwi were prized for their bright red feathers used to make cloaks, helmets and lei for the alii or royalty. With sustainability in mind, early Hawaiian bird catchers would only take one or two feathers from each bird before releasing them back into the wild.
The iiwi’s downward-curve beak is designed for sipping nectar from tubular-shaped flowers though ohia trees have become an important food source as native plants dwindle. But ohia are threatened by ROD or rapid ohia death, an introduced fungal pathogen with no known cure, that has decimated ohia trees on Hawaii Island.
The iiwi’s plight is further compounded by climate change as warming temperatures have allowed malaria-infected mosquitos to move into higher elevations. Our native Hawaiian birds have no immunity to avian malaria and can die from a single infected mosquito bite.
Federally protected since 2017 as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, iiwi are now found only on Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai with a tiny population on Oahu and Molokai. They are found nowhere else in the world. In these unprecedented times, the planet is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care #ForNature.
Sharon Higa is a senior communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.