Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is in the US state of Hawai’I, on the island of Hawai’i. It was first established in 1916 in conjunction with the Haleakalā National Park but the two were split into separate parks in 1960. It now covers an area of 323,431 acres (505.36 sq mls; 1,308.88 km²). It was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 1987.
The park encompasses two active volcanoes which together with three others form the island of Hawai’i. Mauna Loa is a shield volcano, that is one producing low-viscosity and relatively free flowing magma which slowly builds up to create a structure of large area but low profile, belying its actual height of 13,677 feet (4,169 m). It is considered to be the world’s largest subaerial (as opposed to under water) volcano. Kilauea is also a shield volcano and, although slightly smaller, is perhaps the most active volcano on earth. It was traditionally considered the sacred home of volcano goddess, Pele, and Hawaiians visited the crater to offer gifts to the goddess. In 1790 a party of warriors (along with women and children who were in the area) were caught in an unusually violent eruption. Many were killed and others left footprints in the lava that can still be seen today.
While the park is best known for its volcanoes its biological environment is also of great interest. The Hawaiian Archipelago is over 2,000 miles (3,218.5 km) from the nearest continental land mass and is the most geographically isolated group of islands on earth. This has meant that, through evolution, 90% of the plant and animal species found here are unique to the area, an even greater level of endemism than the Galapagos Islands. Most native animal species are descendants of those that were able to fly here, such as birds, bats and insects; those light enough to be carried by birds, such as snails, some insects and spiders; and those blown here or washed ashore.
The park encompasses diverse environments that range from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa, and includes desert-like volcanic landscapes and lush tropical rain forest, providing a wide range of ecosystems and habitat for numerous native Hawaiian species such as carnivorous caterpillars, happy face spiders and colourful Hawaiian honeycreepers. Endangered green sea turtles, although not native to the area, are a notable addition to local waters as they migrate northwards to lay their eggs.