Hawaiʻi was once a national example of success against COVID-19. Now the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii is worse than ever. What’s next for us?
May – June: Hawaiʻiʽs days of success against COVID-19
During our last update in May, Hawaiʻi was experiencing a decrease in cases of COVID-19. Due to some of the most strict quarantine measures in the country, we appeared to have gained control over the spread of the virus. By slashing inbound flights, instituting a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the island, and closing beaches, parks, and most businesses, we brought community spread to nearly zero. We all planned business re-openings and looked forward to being able to socialize again with friends.
Hawaiʻi Walks remains closed
In response to our low numbers of cases, government officials rapidly re-opened the economy of Hawaiʻi. Hawaiʻi Walks was allowed to open as well. In fact, being a business that operates in open-air environments with plenty of social distancing, we are a “lowest-risk” business. However, feeling that the re-opening was premature, we have remained closed. Additionally, we noticed some tourists requesting bookings seemed to be violating the state-mandated 14-day quarantine. We realized verifying tourist compliance was well outside the scope of our mission and business. For a company that is about joy, education, and meeting new people, these new circumstances were untenable. So we have remained closed, with our staff staying at home to do our part to flatten the curve.
COVID-19 surges again in Hawaiʻi
Sadly, the opening of the economy is proving to be premature. Like the rest of the United States, the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii worsened in July. In one month, we saw a large resurgence of COVID-19, with cases increasing by over 50% in just 30 days. We hit a month-high with 42 cases in mid-July. At the time, we thought was a possible peak. We were wrong.
Now, we wait, socially distance, hold government officials accountable, and wash our hands. But most of all, we stay closed. If you had plans to visit Hawaiʻi, we can only say that now is probably not the right time. Beaches, trails, and many businesses are closed, with more to follow. We are averaging 1-2 deaths a day. Local folks are hurting, and we cannot afford additional risk at this time.
However, we are not out of business. We are still accepting bookings for 2021 and are using this time to rebuild our website, build out our online shop and stay on top of new historical research to make sure we are at the top of our game for educating the public when we get back to work. Cases are spiking all over the world, not just Hawaiʻi. As such, we expect our economy to continue to be paralyzed until a vaccine is developed.
We expect our future to look entirely different than our past: Much like the rest of the world. We will keep everyone updated on our plans, as usual, right here. Stay safe.
Wondering how to spend a relaxing but interesting Saturday in Waikiki without driving all around town? Looking for a place that isn’t drowning in tourists? Read our Waikiki Travel Guide for Kapahulu avenue to learn how to spend a perfect Saturday in East Waikiki.
*Note, none to the businesses mentioned in our Waikiki Travel Guide are advertisements or posted in exchange for financial or other gifts. Hence, this is pure, 100% opinionoffered without the judgment cloud of potential instagram fame or fortune. These are actually places I went on my own and thought they were great and worth sharing.
7:30 AM: Coffee Time at KNots Coffee
First of all, if you’re not already in Waikiki, it’s time to splash some water on your face and head down to the shore to get caffeinated. We recommend the delicious coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters inside of the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel. This is a chain from Tokyo that just opened this Honolulu location in 2019. This is probably one of the few coffee bars that sells not only coffee, but also alcohol and dog treats. Yep! Knots Coffee is dog friendly and before-noon-cocktail friendly too. Choose your poison–booze, coffee, or pupper. They’ve got it all.
I was really impressed with the latte I ordered. It was exceptionally rich and smooth with a subtle taste of lavender. Turns out they brew with coffee from Big Island Coffee Roasters based out of Puna, Hawai’i, which was recently named the 2nd best Coffee Roaster in the U.S. by Forbes. I also was pleasantly surprised by their croissant, which was really tasty and flaky. Feel free to take your goods to go, or do as I did and sit and enjoy the view from their street-level patio.
The Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market is a very small but quirky outdoor market open every Saturday. It is held by Creations of Hawai’i, a non-profit that supports community programs around cultural arts and social awareness. Touring the entire market should take around 30 minutes, even with stopping at each booth. Expect to pick up some local Filipino food, some baked goods, and cheap produce.
9:00 AM The Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour
We may be biased, but we are fairly confident the absolute best way to spend 9AM -10:45AM on a Saturday morning is on our East Waikiki Walking Tour. Our walking tour was created to bring information and wonderment in an accessible and affordable way to tourists and residents in historic Waikiki. We want you to look up, see birds, trees, learn about the history of the area, and understand Waikiki in ways you haven’t ever had the opportunity to do before. Let our expert guide show you why Waikiki is so much more than just high rises and fancy restaurants. Join us!!!
After enjoying your Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour, check out the Saturday morning Art on the Zoo Fence along Monsarrat Avenue right across the street from the ending spot of the walking tour. During this event, local artists line the fence along the East side of the Honolulu Zoo to sell their photographs, paintings, and mixed-media art. Unlike most expensive galleries, you buy the works directly from the artists themselves. Incredibly, Art on the Fence has been being held for more than 50 years. If you’re visiting Hawai’i and looking for something authentic and affordable, check out Art on the Fence.
Amidst the $30 hamburgers throughout the menus of rapidly gentrifying Waikiki, there stands one relatively affordable spot with a view–LuLu’s Waikiki. LuLu’s is perhaps the last restaurant in Waikiki that normal local folks go to for normal meals. Otherwise, Hawai’i residents usually only venture to Waikiki on birthdays and anniversaries as most the affordable spots have long since been converted to high-end bistros that charge $10 for a Heineken. Most importantly, with plenty seats facing the ocean, you’re almost guaranteed a great view while you eat. Expect non-fussy, straight-up American fare–burgers with fries, nachos, and dips. Lastly, feel good about supporting this local business, as they are a certified ocean friendly restaurant meaning that they use sustainable policies in the establishment to cut down on plastic waste.
After checking out the artists on the back of the zoo fence, we recommend visiting the Honolulu Zoo itself. The zoo was founded back in 1877 on a small plot of land, and has since grown to encompass 45.5 acres housing hundreds of animal species. With affordable entry prices, it can be a great way to spend your afternoon. If you have children, you will find a huge playground in the center of the zoo where you can watch your wee ones play while you sit under gorgeous canopy trees on a large landscaped lawn. However, beware of overly friendly peacocks! Look at this guy who came up and squawked at me while I was enjoying a drink at one of the rest spots inside the zoo:
After working up an appetite walking around the zoo, it’s time to reward yourself with a drink, a view, and a great meal. You’ll need to return to the Queen Kapi’olani hotel where you had that morning coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters, and head up to the Mezzanine by way of the central elevators. Once on the mezzanine, you’ll see the gorgeous patio view of DECK. bar and Grill overlooking Kapi’olani Park.
DECK. Bar and Grill opened in 2019 after the renovations were completed at the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel which transformed the spot into a retro-chic boutique hotel with major nods to its historic past. However, DECK. is actually a separate company from the QK Hotel, as its parent company is the massive Plan Do See America, a corporate chain from Japan that develops hotels and restaurants around the world. The open-air design is really laid-back, unpretentious, and the views it offers are really unrivaled. Happy hour is from 4-6 and from 9PM until close, and we recommend trying one of the local beers on tap!
7:30 PM: The Royal Art gallery at the Queen kapi’olani hotel
Finally, after you’ve drank and eaten yourself into a soft stupor, take a moment of repose at the Royal Art Gallery located at the back of DECK. Note, to get there, walk back towards the elevators and head down the small set of stairs located behind the pool. At this gallery, you can see re-paintings of the monarchy’s official portraits in large and gorgeous detail. Above all, read the placards below the images to learn more about these important royals’ history. In fact, there’s even an old map of Kapi’olani Park that shows its former use as a horse race track! Furthermore, the gallery will really help contextualize all that you learned on your tour. It’s a really fantastic room with gigantic ceilings that make the Queen Kapi’olani such a special hotel that includes such a valuable and interesting display of Hawaiian history.
After these many stops in this small area of Waikiki, you’ll certainly be ready for bed. Or, if you’d rather continue drinking, you can head over to Hulas next door (gay bar), or venture down Kuhio avenue to one of the many bars down the road.
Our Waikiki Travel Guide reflects our philosophy as a tour company. The world is rich and full of details that need your attention to be seen. We encourage you to appreciate the less-popular, small streets in Waikiki–and life. Too many times tourists think they have to go to the most famous or fancy hotels or restaurants, missing the smaller spots that have great history and real soul. So next time you’re in Waikiki, make a day of it on Kapahulu Avenue: The most underrated block in town.
In the lowlands of Oʻahu you’ll find birds from Indonesia, Brazil, and Japan–but almost no birds from Hawaiʻi. Why are our local birds from everywhere but here? Learn about the birds you will encounter during the Hawaii Walks Waikiki Walking Tour and elsewhere around Oʻahu!
Ancient Hawaiʻi : A diverse and robust aviary
The first Polynesians likely arrived to Hawaiʻi around 1200 AD. These explorers likely arrived from Tahiti and The Marquesas Islands in two separate migration events. When these first settlers arrived, they encountered dozens of rare, endemic birds not found anywhere else on Earth. Due to the absence of other birds or predators that were common on continental lands these birds evolved into unique species. In fact, there were upwards of 70 different endemic land birds before the arrival of humans. However, now there is only one, the nēnē.
Why the native birds disappeared
Upon the arrival of humans, birds encountered this new predator for the first time. Land birds were slow, full of protein, and had little to no fear of humans. As a result, the first settlers consumed a large percentage of these birds as a source of meat. The large number of bird bones found in ancient Polynesian caves corroborate this finding. Sadly, after the arrival of humans they were never to be found anywhere again.
Non-human threats to Native birds
Not all birds died by the direct hands of humans. When the first humans arrived to Hawaiʻi, they brought with them rats, dogs, and pigs. These animals likely preyed on ground birds as well as forest birds. Because rats had the ability to climb trees and attack nests, they were particularly damaging to the bird population. As a result, many native birds had their eggs eaten by rats.
Humans also brought with them what would prove to be the most dangerous threat to native birds yet–the mosquito. Introduced in 1827, The Southern House Mosquito carried two deadly diseases, Avian Malaria and Avian Pox. Because Native Hawaiian birds had no exposure to other birds or mammalian species, they had no immunity to these diseases and native birds began a quick fall towards extinction. However, mosquitos cannot live in lower temperatures. As a result, birds in lowland Oʻahu quickly died out, while birds in higher elevations survived. This is the primary reason there are very few endemic and indigenous birds in Waikiki. These birds are usually found exclusively on the high-slopes of volcanoes like Mauna Kea on Big Island and Haleakalā on Maui.
While native birds can still be found in high-altitude locations throughout the Hawaiian Islands, climate change brings about a new threat. As global temperatures increase, this means the “mosquito line” will effectively shift higher since temperatures overall will increase allowing them to reach higher altitudes than ever before. Current models adjusted for climate change suggest that, because of the growing encroachment of mosquitos, the native Kiwikiu could experience extinction in just 25 years.
the introduction of new birds
As the native bird population has declined, the number of introduced species has greatly increased. The greatest contributor to this was most likely the Hui Manu (“Bird club”). This group of wealthy bird enthusiasts wanted to beautify the islands with colorful songbirds in the early 20th century. Since so many of the beautiful native birds had been killed off, these European settlers felt that there weren’t enough birds to beautify their garden. To fix this, they imported tens of thousands of birds, selected based on their looks and singing ability. Most of these birds further hastened the decline of native birds, as they out-competed native birds for food and eventually spread to overtake their forest habitats.
In Kapiʻolani Park, it’s likely you will hear the distinctive squawk of the rose-ringed parakeet echoing high above you. These birds have drastically altered the landscape of the Hawaiian Islands in just a few years. The first of these birds escaped from a bed-and-breakfast in Kauai in the 60’s, with the population slowly increasing until a rapid exponential growth over the past decade. These birds have been decimating local crops, increasing the spread of Avian Malaria, and annoying residents with their loud calls. Currently, there is no removal plan in place in Hawaiʻi for this species, and as a result, many people have taken matters into their own hands and have admitted to shooting the birds at will. Even with this renegade bird-justice, however, the population continues to climb.
Where are we now?
The trends we see of declining native bird populations coupled with increasing numbers of invasive birds will most likely continue. However, conservationists have been working hard to stabilize native bird populations. The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project has seen successes with their Kiwikiu conservation work, and they continue to develop additional measures of protection for the birds. The Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project is best known for its conservation efforts of the Akikiki. In addition, avian biologists from the ʻAlalā Project have successfully brought back the Native Hawaiian crow, the ʻAlalā, from the brink of extinction and are observing an increase in the population due to their conservation efforts.
The future of Birds in Hawaiʻi
The future of native birds in Hawaiʻi will depend on our action or inaction as stewards of the islands. Slowing climate change and supporting local bird conservation agencies will be important to ensure we do not lose any additional birds to extinction. See below for a list of bird conservation groups that could use financial donations or volunteers to keep their work going strong!
Our best suggestion to support native birds is to learn about their struggles, donate to their cause, and most importantly, don’t forget to look up! Every bird above you has a story….
The kōlea’s presence in Hawaiʻi has sacred roots and their annual migratory journey is a modern wonder. Read why this bird is not your average plover!
“Is that a sandpiper in the grass?” guests often ask during our Waikīkī Nature Walk as they point to the long-legged Pacific Golden Plover (called the Kōlea in Hawaiian), picking at bugs in Kapi’olani Park. With most tours counting upwards of a dozen of these birds on any given day from October – April, they certainly pique the curiosity of visitors and locals alike with their elegant walk and distinctive calls. These birds look similar to sandpipers, with long legs and pointy beaks. But what makes them different? What makes the Kōlea such a treasured part of the Hawaiian landscape?
Plovers and sandpipers belong to different families. Sandpipers are part of the Scolopacidae family, which refers to a group of shore-birds. Plovers belong to the Charadriidae family, which includes birds like the Kōlea, that are larger and don’t feed exclusively on shore lines. Amazingly, these families of birds are thought to have been around up to 33 million years ago! Even though they are cute, scientists often refer to birds as modern dinosaurs, and seeing as how long they’ve been around, it’s no wonder why.
The Kōlea is a migratory bird that breeds in Alaska and Siberia during the summer months, and then flies over 4,000 miles to Hawaiʻi every year to fatten up in the warm tropical weather on a buffet of bugs, berries, and seeds. Amazingly, these birds return from their Northern climates down to the same patch of land on the islands year after year. Many Hawaiʻi residents will say they have their “own” Kōlea, even going so far as to give them names. In fact, many families in Hawaiʻi consider the Kōlea their ʻaumākua, which is a spirit of protection that takes the form of a particular animal.
Fiercely territorial, the Kōlea will fight off any other Kōlea that may try to conquer their grassy knoll. The distance they have traveled to return to the same location every year is no small feat, which explains why the birds are willing to take on any rival Kōlea that ventures into their territory. And while older birds know the path to get to Hawaiʻi, newly hatched offspring do not. After baby birds are old enough to fly, the adults take off for Hawaiʻi. Meanwhile, the young are left behind for several more weeks. Amazingly, the young birds find their way to Hawaiʻi on their own without any guidance.
Kōleamoku – The God of Healing
The Kōlea is named after Kōleamoku, the God of Healing in Hawaiian religion. It is thought that the Kōlea bird is an incarnation of Kōleamoku, and would fly to bring messages to the Aliʻi (Hawaiian leaders) from the Heavens. Since they departed for much of the year, it is easy to see how it would make sense that these birds were thought to be leaving to communicate with spirits in far off places.
Spotting the Kōlea
The best place to look for Kōlea are on flat stretches of grass. They have long legs and move in quick successions of small steps. Their call is a shrill and loud, and you’ll only hear it when you’ve gotten too close. Before the birds depart in April, the males grow a distinctive black plumage known as their “breeding tuxedo.” This is how locals know it’s almost time for the birds to head back to their Northern habitats.
If you don’t see any around grassy spots in Waikīkī, you can always go visit the Kōlea at the Honolulu Zoo.
Enjoy your warm winter stay, Kōlea!
Book at tour today at hawaiiwalks.org to meet this bird in person from October – April!
“Makoa” RL36 is the 3rd pup death on O’ahu of 2019. Out of the 5 born this year, only two are still alive. How did we get here? Read on to learn about this endangered mammal and what is causing their decline.
About the Hawaiian Monk Seal
The Native Hawaiian Monk seal is a rare, but ancient animal. It is thought to have migrated to Hawaiian waters some 10 million years ago, making its way from the Mediterranean through the Central American Seaway and into the Pacific. There were evolutionary changes along the way as well, with the original Mediterranean Monk Seal evolving into the Caribbean Monk Seal upon arrival in the Western Atlantic. Once the seals passed through the Central American Seaway and into the Pacific, the Hawaiian Monk Seal evolved into its own, separate species, which exists to this day.
The ancestors of this seal represents great loss. Only 400 Mediterranean Monk Seals survive today, and the Caribbean Monk Seal is officially extinct. The last sighting of one was in 1961. Amazingly, in a span of just 100 years, from 1800-1900, a robust Caribbean Monk Seal population of over 300,000 seals was totally decimated by European colonization, as people began hunting them for food, and in pursuit of their blubber to create oil (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 2012). Unfortunately, these seals did not have an evolutionary fear of humans, and since they spend 1/3 of their lives sleeping on the beach, they made for an easy target for hunters. With the rapid pace of industrialization and consumerism, sadly their fate was quickly sealed.
Why are the Seals Dying?
Unfortunately, the combination of being slow moving on land, shore-dwelling, protein-rich with valuable blubber has made the Native Hawaiian Monk Seal face similar struggles to is cousins to the West. The seals were ruthlessly hunted upon the arrival of humans to the archipelago, and today have a population of only 1400–making it one of the most critically endangered animals in the world. 1100 of these seals inhabit the Northwestern Hawaiian islands, with about 300 on the main Hawaiian islands. There are around 45 “O’ahu” seals that we track and monitor, but that number can vary widely given any particular time of year.
The struggles for the Monk Seals no longer come from hunting. As an officially endangered animal, they are federally protected. In fact one Hawai’i man was recently sent to jail for four years for getting drunk and punching a pregnant monk seal. Although there are upwards of 13 unsolved monk seal murders (I recommend this brilliant article by Jon Mooallem to learn more about that), most monk seal deaths do not occur directly by human hands, but from the industries and effects of their actions. Read on to learn about the 3 largest threats to the Hawaiian Monk Seal.
Marine Debris Entanglement
Industrial fishing nets, ropes and baskets are the most commonly found large debris in Hawaiian waters. Industrial fishing nets, when they become broken or stuck, are often cut and thrown overboard into the ocean when they are no longer useful. These debris inevitably find their way to shore, where they become small ecosystems for fish and wildlife. often monk seals will explore these ghost nets for food, becoming entangled and eventually drowning (seals can only hold their breath for up to 20 minutes).
Competition For Space and food
While the monk seal population is growing on the main Hawaiian islands, the population on the Northwestern islands is shrinking. The atolls of the northwest archipelago are eroding and disappearing every year due to climate change. Food stocks have decreased. Increasing numbers of conflicts between seals for resources or mates have been documented, suggesting that long-term habitation in the region for seals is likely untenable. Re-location efforts to move seals from the NW islands continues to be discussed, but it appears many seals accomplish the migration naturally as a response to growing conflict and resource depletion.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that replicates in the guts of cats. On O’ahu alone, there are upwards of 400,000 feral cats–along with domesticated cats that owners allow outside–that often defecate outdoors, spreading the parasite into ground water, streams, and eventually the oceans. The parasite then accumulates near the shore, where many monk seals choose to hunt. Monk seals have no natural protection against toxoplasmosis, and once contracted, death is largely certain. In 2018, we lost 3 seals on O’ahu to toxoplasmosis. Efforts to reduce feral cat populations or to make feeding feral cats illegal is often met with extreme protests, so the cat population continues to grow while these rare animals slink towards extinction.
What happened to Makoa (RL36)?
Makoa was born on Mother’s Day, 2019 to Honey Girl (read about her amazing story here), one of the oldest documented seals in the wild and mother to 12 pups. Unfortunately, as of today, only two of those pups are still alive following the death of Makoa. NOAA reports the initial assessment of how the pup died are inconclusive. NOAA is famously protective of any information that goes out about the seals, so you can expect them to remain tight-lipped until final diagnostics are in place. Unfortunately, sometimes they can never determine the cause of death. Along with the aforementioned threats to the seals, things like infections, trauma from boats, other seals, or even waves can all contribute to high mortality rates.
It has truly been a sad year for the monk seals, as so much effort and work has been put into conserving these animals. We can only hope for a better year next year, with more serious measures put in place to slow climate change, address the spread of toxopasmosis, and limit the amount of fishing gear in the ocean.