Our Islands, Our Future

Molokai High School senior, Cameryn Rae Kahalewai won numerous awards, including first place overall in the senior division at the 60th Maui County Regional Science & Engineering Fair held at the Maui Beach Hotel. Kahalewai’s project, “The Effect of Soil Type, Salt, and Feral Animal Fencing on the Plant Distribution and Abundance on Kalaupapa Peninsula, Molokai”, also won her an invitation to represent Maui District in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona in May.

“My project examined the effect of feral animals, soil type, and salt on the distribution of coastal vegetation,” Kahalewai explained. “Using quadrat plant surveys and soil conductivity measurements in two 100-hectare (250-acre) areas with and without deer, I found that soil salt levels were similar across all soil types except for sand. Lower readings for sand could be due to the prevailing wind patterns or soil drainage. Without deer, mineral and organic soil had larger percentages of plant cover, while the sand and mixed soil types had higher percentages of native species present. Comparing the impacts of deer on either sides of the fence, both native and non-native plant cover decreased when deer were present. Four key plant species were selected in the grass, forb, or shrub life form categories. All experienced a decrease in average percent plant cover when deer were present. Based on these results, we can conclude that deer are negatively impacting the coastal salt spray vegetation and species richness regardless of soil type. Fencing appears to improve plant cover, especially for native species growing abundantly in the sand.”

Kahalewai found that both invasive plants and free-roaming ungulates (hoofed animals) are causing detrimental impacts to native plant species. “I wanted to show that if ungulate problems are addressed in time, the remaining native coastal vegetation in damaged areas has a better chance to survive,” she said.

Biology teacher Jeannine Rossa said, “I saw Cameryn’s enthusiasm and understanding of the material develop throughout the semester. This is wonderful field-based science. Kahalewai hopes to major in both environmental science and business marketing in the Fall.”

I hope my research can inform both the Kalaupapa land management and the entire community of Hawaii about the effects of coastal salt spray, soil type and feral animals on coastal vegetation and offer plausible solutions.

Cameryn Rae Kahalewai, Molokai High School senior