Hawaii was once a secluded island inhabited only by local people and endemic flora and fauna. Now, it’s widely recognized as a must-see tourist site on a global scale.

But the native species of Hawaii are under more and more strain to survive as the state has opened up to the rest of the world. Endangered endemic birds and plants are seriously threatened by invasive shrubs and animals, including mongoose and common house cats. The US-based Nature Conservancy (TNC) is collaborating with the local populace of the archipelago to restore its native forests. TNC biologist Chris Balzotti has been in charge of a meticulous restoration effort in the Ka’ region, where the largest state forest reserve, Ka’ Forest Reserve, is located. The project started in 2002 with the goal of protecting biologically diverse and intact forests in 3,548 acres of land within the 61,500 acres of Ka’ Forest Reserve. The native forest leads on a guided walk through the dense ōhi‘a and koa trees and uluhe and hāpu‘u ferns, which entwine to form a beautiful forest canopy. Rare native species such as the nuku ‘i‘iwi thrive here, and several birds have a safe place to nest. The Hawaiian Happy-Faced Spider can now also be spotted on this precious patch of land.

“It’s important to have native areas like this because it allows the indigenous community to connect with the species that are culturally important to them,”  senior scientist and cultural advisor for TNC Dr. Sam Gon says. “Their relationship to the land is sacred. We take that sacred trust seriously.”