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If you're looking for natural beauty and unique tropical plants and birds, you'll find it on the Garden Island. Its complex environment and physical geography led to the evolution of hundreds, perhaps thousands of birds and plants that live only here. Some species are found solely in a specific valley or on a particular cliff.
The year-round warmth, sunshine, and passing showers are ideal for growing flowers, fruits, vegetables, and a huge array of shrubs, vines, and trees. Many of the plants that are most common are not native, but rather were introduced for specific purposes (food, fiber and timber, decoration or medicine) or arrived accidentally.
Within Kauai's 550-plus square miles, there are distinct micro-climates, including coastal sand dunes; desert-like plateaus; verdant river valleys; foothills alternately sunny and rainy; to mountain tops often cloaked in clouds. Each environmental niche has its own complement of flora and fauna that have adapted most successfully. Invading plants and feral animals have altered some of these habitats and because of this, many species have become extinct. Hawaiian birds account for more than half of all birds listed in the U.S. Sport Fisheries and Wildlife book of rare and endangered species.
Many people now appreciate the fragile balance of nature on Kauai, and there are opportunities for visitors to observe and learn about some of the exotic birds, insects, fish and plants that live here. Bring binocoulars so you can spot some of the colorful forest birds in Kokee State Park. Get a fish identification card from a snorkel rental shop so you can spot the state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa.
You will see crop plants like sugar cane, papayas, bananas, and coffee all around the island. Tropical flowers are cultivated in nurseries, used for landscaping, and propagated in collectiions.
Among the wetlands and taro fields bordering the Hanalei River and Huleia Stream live native coots, Koloa ducks, stilts, gallinules, and migratory waterfowl. Pueo (Hawaiian owls) can occasionally be seen in the early evening or morning as they hunt for prey. The Kilauea Lighthouse National Wildlife Refuge is home to many migratory and resident sea birds.
Hawaiian monk seals sometimes bask on beaches and green sea turtles sometimes swim near shore, but you should not approach them as they are both protected by law as rare species. From November to April, humpback whales play offshore, and various boat companies offer whale-watching adventures.
As you explore the forests, beaches, and waters, remember that this is a fragile and complex ecosystem.
Malama 'aina -- take care of the land.