Hawaiian Islands Biosphere Reserve

Country United States of America
Region/State Hawaii
Web Address https://www.georgewrightsociety.org/conservation
Date Founded 1980
Size (hectares) 99545
Distinguishing Features Mixed island system

High biodiversity

Many invasive species

Main Industries (in terms of employment) Tourism and recreation


Hawaiian Islands Biosphere Reserve

The Hawaiian Islands Biosphere Reserve was established on the islands of Maui and Hawai’i in 1980.  Hawai‘i Volcanoes NP is designated a World Heritage Site (1987). Since the biosphere reserve’s establishment, 65,812 hectares of land have been added to Haleakalā NP and Hawai‘i Volcanoes NP and increased the total biodiversity within the Biosphere Reserve. Biological inventories were conducted in these new additions (Tweed et al. 2007, Benitez et al, 2008, Camp et al. 2011), and as of 2015, 1,261, and 1,753 native species were documented in Haleakalā NP and Hawai‘i Volcanoes NP respectively.

The Hawai’i Association of Watershed Partnerships (HAWP), comprised of 11 watershed partnerships and over 70 participating public and private landowners, land managers, agencies, and organizations between 6 islands, is unique to this biosphere reserve. Within the Areas of Partnership and Coordination, the three HAWPs (East Maui Watershed Partnership (EMWP), Leeward Haleakalā Watershed Restoration Partnership (LHWRP), Three Mountain Alliance (TMA)) provide the framework for coordinating the various large public and private landowners and managers, and research organizations. The partners work collaboratively to maintain healthy forest watersheds for recharge, conservation, and other ecosystem services.

Ecosystem services provided by the biosphere reserve are essential to island communities. Supporting services, such as carbon sequestration, nutrient and water cycling occur across all ecosystems and zones. In particular, upland mesic and wet forest ecosystems, are densely vegetated. Extensive island watersheds support Montane Wet Forests and lowland ecosystems, and service local communities with water supplies.  Provisioning services found within the biosphere reserve include hunting for large mammals and birds on state forests and game area reserves, ranching, and farming on private and state lease lands. In particular, upland mesic and wet forest ecosystems are densely vegetated, and sequester high levels of carbon, regulate local climate, and recharge groundwater.

Numerous universities, agencies and organizations are involved in ongoing studies related to geology, ecosystem development, island biogeography and evolution, habitat restoration, climate change, human connections to the landscape, historical settlement patterns, human resource procurement, and paleoenvironmental studies. The world’s first Volcano Observatory, operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, is stationed in the Biosphere and serves as a global center for volcanic study and hazard monitoring.

Tourism is the primary industry for the islands. On each of the islands of Maui and Hawai’i, Haleakalā and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Parks are regarded as the #1 tourist attractions and play an important role in the local economy. Traveling from around the globe to visit the biosphere reserve, visitors spend money on transportation, lodging, food, retail, and recreation. Although fluctuating year to year, overall visitation to the parks has remained steady and largely reflect overall island visitation rates and economic trends. Fishing and forestry are not significant economic or ecological contributors to the biosphere reserve. Limited agriculture occurs within the Area of Partnership and Cooperation. Subsistence fishing by Native Hawaiians occurs within the Managed Use Areas.  Development initiatives are primarily related to recreation and tourism. Within the Managed Use Areas, the Haleakalā and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Parks seek local community input on development of visitor use facilities, such as roads, parking lots, trails, and contact stations, and on commercial activities, provide access while protecting natural and cultural resources.

The biosphere reserve also provides opportunities for recreation, traditional ceremonies, solitude, aesthetic, inspiration and education experiences. For indigenous Hawaiians, the relationship of the individual to the environment is particularly important. Traditionally, Hawaiians regarded themselves as ‘directly tied to the natural world and their gods represented elements of nature—for example the sun (Kanehoalani), freshwater (Kanekawaiola), the ocean (Kanaloa), volcanism (Pele), forest (Laka), and others. All natural phenomena (including the Kanaka [mankind]) are intimately connected.’ Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani 2009, NPS 2013). Native Hawaiian culture is regarded as a core fundamental resource and value within the Biosphere Reserve. The two national parks are committed to incorporating the Native Hawaiian values mālama ‘āina (nourishing or taking care of the land) and kuleana (responsibility) in stewardship of natural and cultural resources.

View from Haleakala Crater
Bioblitz Cultural Festival NPS