Today, we went to Mahaulepu Beach, the site of a restored coastal plains. Unless you know the significance of coastal plains habitats and their destruction over time in Hawaii, this place may seem insignificant. However it really is pretty amazing. There, we went to the top of this mountain where we had a great view and then we went into this sinkhole cave in the same place. This is where one of the Pirates of the Carribean movies was shot! (At least part of it that is) Then after that I went snorkeling which was pretty rad. Finally, I took a test on Hawaiian Natural history as part of this course which went ok. I didn’t really study for these tests because I wasn’t taking them for credit, but I did go through all of the material once while taking notes so that I would learn some things.
Oh, and sorry but all my photos are on my camera and I haven’t found a way to upload them to a computer, so I just used photos from google that looked similar to ones that I saw. Hopefully I’ll come back and add my own photos later.
My notes progressively got worse and worse over the course of this trip, it’s not good! At the beginning I was writing down all the key points, and then by the end I was just trying to write down some of the things I heard which may or may have not been important at all (something is better than nothing I figured). So I’m going off of less than I did for earlier posts, but luckily I’m writing this while the experiences are still fresh since it just happened!
Mahaulepu is located past an old sugar mill that was retired recently. Hawaii only a couple of years ago in 2014, I believe, shut down the last sugar mill. It was no longer possible to make a profit off the crop. Some of the main exports of Hawaii are pineapples, coffee, and probably also other important agricultural crops like oranges. Here are a couple cool facts: 1/3 of all pineapples are from Hawaii and the biggest coffee plantation in the US is located on Kaua’i (and it’s the one I visited earlier on this trip too!).
The place looks very sketchy because there are a lot of gates that you have to go through that are locked and we had to be led in by this guy named Chris. He gave us a tour of the plains. He was an archaeologist, and so he knew a fair amount about geology and rock-formation in the area, as well as what kinds of different fossils existed in the area. Mahaulepu is special because it has a large amount of limestone in a quarry that came from calcareous sand dunes: sand dunes that broke down over time into limestone. I feel a bit uneasy about the science he presented, but that’s ok. Limestone is the best preservative of fossils and conseqeuently, any animals that died in the layer would have been very well preserved. It just so happens that the limestone did collect many fossils that have been scavenged out through the years. Of the things scavenged out, there was a 4 foot bird and an owl species with really long legs! Pretty neat.
So we hiked to the top of this mountain and talked about the biology and geology and that was fun. This place is significant as a restored lower plainlands. All of the plains in Hawaii has at some point or another been mowed down by domestic animals or humans for either food (for the animals) or food production of crops (for the humans). A lot of the plainlands species either went extinct or only exist close to mountains or were lucky and survived the human-caused onslaught. An interesting fact: 98% of all biomass are things introduced by humans (I think that that only includes plant biomass, but it might also be animals). So that means that the vast majority of plants in the coastal plainlands are human-introduced. This coastal plainlands has been restored to look more like what a Hawaiian coast would have looked like, including native plants and animals. In one area, the restoration project includes using turtles to eat the herbaceous layer on the ground. I don’t really remember how it works, but somehow that helps the trees in the canopy and other native plants to grow. The turtles come from families who thought that having a turtle was a good idea and then 5 years and 50 pounds later they realized it was a bad idea. So they donate them to this place.
So we walked around a bit, got a nice tour, then we went down to the sinkhole! The sinkhole formed about 100,000 years ago, which is relatively recent in evolutionary time considering the cave itself would have formed probably around 4-5 million years ago. Getting into the cave was wack. We had to go through this tiny tunnel on our hands and knees, and Chris warned us not to stand up too quickly or else we would hit our heads on the cave rock that we could not see. Despite that, one person hit their head and they bled a lot from their head. It looked really bad, but luckily, one girl named Nadia came to the rescue with another girl named Ivette and together they bandaged her up and she continued on the trip with us! The sinkhole was full of plants including several large trees like palm trees and Willi Willi trees (totally forget why they’re called that or why they’re important, I know, what a let down sorry). That’s because 100,000 years is enough time for sediment to come down, form soil, and for plants to grow. There are still caves, however, and there are apparently a lot of fossils in the caves.
There are several species of endemic animals that live only in this cave and no where else in the world. All of these creatures have no eyes, for they migrated into the cave with eyes, and then did not need them, and so they lost them. One of them, the most notable, is this spider. All of the islands have a different kind of Big-eyed Wolf Spider, or perhaps multiple species. One spider went into this cave millions of years ago where it then lost its eyes. So guess what they named it? The No-eyed Big-Eyed Wolf Spider. Pretty zany how these things work, yeah? Another one was an isopod, a bug like a pill bug, and a third was a marine shrimp that came into the cave, became terrestrial, lost its eyes, and now feeds on root tendrils from roots that went through the wall of the cave.
So this sinkhole collapsed 100,000 years ago, the Hawaiians came what I think was nearly 2000 years ago in 300 CE. This cave was largely unknown what its purpose was by archaeologists, but they thought that it must have been colonized by humans for they found partially-burned firewood in the cave. So they did not know the history or even what the Hawaiians called the cave. Sometime in the 20th century (I think), this woman came to researchers and told them about the cave, except she did not know what it was called either. She only remembered stories about this man named Kiahikuni, a seer. The seer would burn firewood, she said, and would look at the smoke to tell people’s futures. Fast forward some time, some anthropologist was reading some letter that a kid from a local high school was writing to his parents about this cool cave that he went to and the boy called it “Makauwahi Cave”. What did that mean, researchers wondered. They brought this to the woman who spoke Hawaiian and told the stories of the seer, and she said that it translated as “Eye of the Smoke” Wow, that makes so much sense, doesn’t it! And that’s how the cave’s name was recovered.
Next, we did this cool activity where we parsed through a bunch of cave slop in order to find fossils. And we found so many fossils! We were allowed to do this because the slop held no scientific value. When scientists dig for fossils from sediments, they try to preserve what layer it came from, but when the sediments fall from the layers onto the ground or into water, they get mixed with other layers and it is not possible to tell what time they are from. So they can be used for educational purposes, but little else as far as I understand. We found so much: fossilized wood that looked like it came off a tree yesterday but was actually thousands of years old, fossilized vertebrae from fish, sea urchin spines, tiny black seeds from plants, stones, fish scales, bones, and lots more. I wish I took more pictures, alas I was so distracted getting my hands mushy in the stuff that I couldn’t take pictures.
So that was pretty much the end of the sinkhole/cave expedition. So we went back to the hotel and then chilled for a while. Except I didn’t, I wanted to do stuff. So I went out to see if I could go swimming on the beach. I didn’t expect to find a place to snorkel, so I didn’t bring my snorkel (big mistake, it would have helped). But I did bring goggles. So I went for a walk along the beach, very cool stuff. I saw a sign that featured Hawaiian hyroglyphics and said that archaeologists had uncovered ingravings in the rock along the beach, but unfortunately I couldn’t find them because they were submerged and others had algae growing on them. I did try hard though, I climbed on the slippery rocks while this Hawaiian guy was like, “Hey [dumb tourist], be careful those rocks are slippery.” I think he was thinking dumb tourist even though he didn’t say it because it was probably pretty not smart to do that when I had no one else around to cover me. But life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Sometimes there is someone, sometimes there isn’t.
So I walked the beach and there was cool stuff. I went across this beach and at one point there was a shallow river that divided the beach. So I put my backpack on my head and waded through the river! That felt pretty cool. Though I felt uneasy about swimming because no one else was swimming and I didn’t want to go alone. “When in doubt, don’t go out”, as they say here. But I did find a small reef to go snorkeling!
(Lydgate State Park)
And there were beautiful fish there. Ones with blue and yellow and traveled in colonies along this small pond contained by rocks. And other fish that were pale brown and very thin. Others that were black with a spot of yellow. There was not super high diversity, but it was still really fun. I didn’t have snorkeling gear, so I used my goggles alone and that worked because the water was shallow enough that I could put my feet down in the water. That worked out great. But moral of the story is always bring swimsuit, goggles, AND snorkeling gear, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
Wooo so that was a long post, but it was an eventful day! Hope you enjoyed, come back for more tomorrow!