Earth Expeditions

Hawai‘i: Saving Species

Help save the Hawaiian crow and other native forest birds while learning what it takes to restore local plant communities and rescue species from extinction.

Course Details
In Hawai‘i: July 22-31, 2020
Students arrive day before course begins.
On the Web: April – December
Credits: 7 graduate credits from Miami University;
Course can be applied to the Global Field Program
Course Cost: Field course (in-country + web): $2,750
(price includes tuition for 5 graduate credits and in-country costs) + airfare to Hilo, Hawai‘i.

Fall project course (web, required): $600
(price includes tuition for 2 graduate credits)

Course Overview

Born from a volcanic hotspot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the extraordinary island ecosystems of Hawai‘i evolved in isolation over millions of years. The islands have long been home to many species that occur nowhere else on the planet. However, since the arrival of humans, native species have been under tremendous threat, and by many measures Hawai‘i is becoming one of the United States’ most profound conservation failures. Habitat destruction, environmental degradation, introduced species, and other forces have made Hawai‘i a global center for extinction. For example, more than half of 113 endemic Hawaiian bird species have perished. Most of the remaining species are in decline or hanging by a thread. Yet as we document, one-by-one, the extinction of Hawaiian species, the image of Hawai‘i as a diverse tropical paradise continues each year to draw millions of visitors, the vast majority remaining unaware that the native species of Hawai‘i are in peril.

Students in this course will join with San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), Project Dragonfly, and Hawaiian partners to explore what it takes to save species in the wild. We will focus especially on the inspirational work of SDZG’s Institute for Conservation Research, which uses science, education, and community programs to rescue species from the brink of extinction. The Institute’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) has a successful history of restoring Hawaiian birds and their native forested habitats. The KBCC is currently working with several species, including the Hawaiian crow, or ‘Alalā, which has been extinct in the wild since 2002, and whose last remaining members live only in captivity. Historically, the ‘Alalā has contributed to the health of native forests as a significant seed disperser, and the bird has an important place in Hawaiian culture. An earlier effort to reintroduce the ‘Alalā did not succeed. Evidence suggests that the success of a planned second attempt will depend partly on developing and implementing effective methods of community engagement and participatory education.

We expect Earth Expedition’s Hawai‘i program to immerse graduate students and local partners in developing and testing site-specific methods of community engagement to sustain ecological and social health.

Prior to and following the field experience in Hawai‘i, students will complete coursework via Dragonfly Workshops’ Web-Based Learning Community as they apply experiences to their home institutions.