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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 499-501

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Isles of Refuge:
Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Isles of Refuge: Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands,by Mark J Rauzon. University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.ISBN0-8248- 2330-3; ix + 205 pages, including figures, maps, photos, glossary (pronunciation of Hawaiian words), appendix, bibliography, and index. Paper,US$29.95.

In Isles of Refuge, Mark Rauzon takes the reader on a journey through time and space, island-hopping northwest from the main Hawaiian islands. He weaves together natural history, human history, and personal experiences as a member of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, serving in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Each fascinating islet, atoll, or group of ship-destroying reefs is described through summaries of its geological and evolutionary history, overlain with stories of human discovery, destruction, and tragedy. Rauzon leads us from the days of rampant destruction of habitat into a more environmentally friendly era of conservation and ecotourism.

The natural history of these islands began with their growth from the sea floor as the central Pacific hot-spot built layer after layer of lava. Eventually, as the Pacific plate lurched northwest, a trail of islands formed from the Aleutians of Alaska to Hawai'i's Big Island, this last still being created by that same hot spot. As soon as lava cooled, whether under water or above, plants and animals began to make themselves at home. As old islands eroded and sank, corals and coralline algae formed encircling necklaces growing upward, staying in the lighted surface zone, forming an atoll. Islands older still were carried northwestward into water too cool for coral reefs and gradually sank below the sea. The most southerly of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Necker Island and Nihoa, still raise their basalt cores above the sea. In a chain to the north, but still within the zone of coral reef development, are French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, Laysan and Lisianski Islands, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Midway Atoll, and Kure Atoll. All provide refuges of exquisite if stark beauty for sea birds, reef fishes, sea turtles, monk seals, and their neighbors, predators, and prey. Storms have wiped out whole populations, climates have shifted, and the Pacific plate continues to move. But enough land and near-surface reef remain for recruitment and recovery of most of the populations. Rauzon describes the islands and reefs from south to north, details the life history and behavior of their residents, and emphasizes the importance of these refuges to so many threatened species.

The human discovery of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, as with the main islands, came in two waves. We know that the ancient Polynesians who became Hawaiians visited and probably spent extended periods on at least the most southerly islands. But we know too little about their tenancy [End Page 499] —how long they lived there, how frequently they visited, and what they thought about these small places, so different from their main islands. Rauzon describes archeological sites and gives us some insight into the feelings of the Native Hawaiian community as it became more aware of this little-known part of their ancestral domain.

The second wave of human discovery and exploitation was disastrous for many members of the resident flora and fauna. This second wave led to surface mining for guano, harvesting whole colonies of birds and their eggs, hunting seals, overfishing, and damaging shipwrecks. Luckily, most of these destructive activities occurred in a spotty fashion, leaving gaps of time, or bypassing some islands while exploiting others. This hit-or-miss devastation allowed many species, though not all, to survive and return to these islands, reclaiming territory as thepeople moved out.Rauzongives a forthright, mostly nonjudgmental picture of human exploitation, greed, murder,and wanton destructiveness, as well as human courage and tenacity.

Isles of Refuge would be much less interesting without Rauzon's personal stories of his own experiences. Many of us can identify with his problems with seasickness while getting to the islands, and can...


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