Hawaii - Nature and Scientific Wonders | Travel | Smithsonian

Hawaii - Nature and Scientific Wonders

Hawaii - Nature and Scientific Wonders

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Hawaiian wildlife spent 70 million years evolving in isolation—many native plants and animals are found nowhere else on earth. Though invasive species like pigs and rats have reduced many native populations, tropical birds, flowers and other indigenous fauna and flora flourish in the many state and national parks.

Haleakala National Park, on Maui, offers hiking, biking and panoramic views from the slopes of a dormant volcano. More adventurous hikers can trek to the isolated 400-foot Waimoku Falls. Iao Valley State Park, also on Maui, features the striking 1,200-foot rock formation Iao Needle. Waimea Canyon, on Kauai, has been called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," at 10 miles long and 3,000 feet deep.

In 2006, President George W. Bush created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument—covering 140,000 square miles, it’s the largest conservation area in the U.S. It includes 4,500 square miles of healthy coral reef and is home to 7,000 marine species, including sharks, dolphins and endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtle. Also known as Papahanaumokuakea, the area was considered sacred by the Hawaiian religion, which taught that it was the source of all life on earth.

Hawaii’s isolation from mainland light and air pollution makes it an important center for astronomical research. Telescopes owned by the University of Hawaii, NASA, Caltech, the Smithsonian Institution and others top the 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea, on the Big Island.

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