By Mike McGee, Program Supervisor
Students recently had the opportunity to visit Kuhuku Ranch, a special area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kuhuku Ranch was one of the largest ranches in Hawaii and sprawled out over almost 200,000 acres on the western slopes of Mauna Loa. The ranch was purchased by the National Park Service due to the unique ecosystems found within the ranch. The ranch includes several large pit craters, visible reminders of Mauna Loa’s violent past. The largest of the pit craters is about 500 feet across and almost 300 feet deep. The crater contains species that are found nowhere else in the world and only a handful of humans have ever been to the bottom, preserving the ecosystem as it had originally developed.
The students were excited to explore the area! The ranch has the appearance of a mystical movie set. Ancient Ohia Le’hua and Koa trees dot the landscape of deep flowing grass. Collapsed lava tubes give the landscape a rolling feel of mounds and valleys. After unloading the vehicles, the group began the short 1.5 mile hike to the crater while discussing the geological history of the land.
When the group arrived at the crater the students were amazed! The group spotted an I’o, or Hawaiian Hawk, swoop across the crater as well as an Apapane, one of the last remaining species of the endemic honey-creepers. These rare birds are found nowhere else on the planet and are currently listed as endangered species.
During lunch break, the group did an activity where students were given vague instructions on how to draw an animal. Everyone shared their drawings and spoke to how animals will adapt to fill niches in a ecosystem and how sometimes that can look a little weird (Hawaii originally had a duck fulfill the niche of grazing herbivore). That lead us to a conversation about our roles in social groups and how people adapt depending on the situations they find themselves in. We may find ourselves the leader on a sports team, a class clown in school, and a peacemaker in the family all in one day!