Potential impacts of sea level rise on native plant communities and associated cultural sites in coastal areas of the main Hawaiian Islands

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Abstract

Hawaiian coastal vegetation is comprised of plant species that are adapted to growing in extremely harsh conditions (salt spray, wave wash, wind, and substrates with limited nutrients) found in this habitat zone. Prior to human colonization of Hawai‘i coastal vegetation extended as a continuous ring around each of the islands, broken only by stretches of recent lava flows or unstable cliff faces. However, since humans arrived in Hawai‘i many areas that originally supported native coastal plant communities have been highly altered or the native vegetation totally removed for agriculture, housing, or resort development, destroyed by fire, displaced by invasive plants, eaten by introduced mammals, or damaged by recreational use. This study was focused on identifying sites that still retain relatively intact and highly diverse native coastal plant communities throughout the main Hawaiian Islands that may be further impacted by projected sea level rise. Approximately 40 percent of Hawai‘i’s coastlines were found to still contain high quality native coastal plant communities. Most of these sites were located in areas where the coastal vegetation can still migrate inshore in response to rising sea level and associated inundation by waves. However, six sites with high-quality native coastal vegetation were found on low-lying offshore islets that will be totally inundated with a one meter increase in sea level and thirty sites were found to have some type of fixed barrier, such as a paved road or structure, which would restrict the plants from colonizing the adjacent inland areas. Many of these sites also have other cultural resources that are fixed in place and will definitely be impacted by rising sea level. The results of this study can help refine our understanding of Hawai‘i’s remaining native coastal vegetation and aid with the development of management and restoration strategies to ensure the long-term survival of these unique plant communities.

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Potential impacts of sea level rise on native plant communities and associated cultural sites in coastal areas of the main Hawaiian Islands
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative
Contributing office(s) Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
Description 49 p.
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