At the peak of the Mauna Kea volcano, I was perched on top of the world! My visit to the volcano was significantly improved by my newfound interests sparked in my AP Gov course. I was interested in how the construction of the observatories atop the volcano had interfered with the habitat of native species and how the state government was protecting inhabitants.
Mauna Kea is 4,205 m (13,795 ft) above sea level and about two million years old. On the drive up Mauna Kea, the paved path soon turned into a dirt road, and my father and I ventured further and further up the volcano. The windy roads took sharp turns, twisting up the volcano. Once at the top of Mauna Kea, my dad and I grabbed our sled and headed for the highest peak. Having gone snorkeling in the morning, we were determined to end the day sledding — all in the spirit of adventure!
The creation of an access road in 1964 has caused controversy between scientists and natives because the peaks of the island of Hawaii are considered sacred according to Hawaiian mythology. Today, the Mauna Kea Observatories stand atop several surrounding peaks and research across the electromagnetic spectrum from visible light to radio. Because of its high altitudes and stable airflow, Mauna Kea’s summit is one of the best sites for astronomical observation. Studies are currently underway to determine how the construction has affected the ecology of the area. For example, the wekiu bug inhabits Mauna Kea, but their population is being depleted by the loose cinder and spills of chemicals used in maintaining the telescopes. To further investigate, I researched what actions were being taken to protect these insects.
Petitions are a common way for Hawaiian natives and passionate visitors to advocate for the protection of the wekiu bug and many other insects. In October 2011, a petition was filed to list the wekiu bug as an endangered species; however, the U.S. government declined to consider it as endangered. Although petitioners were unsuccessful, they may rest assured that the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is dedicated to managing state parks and other natural resources. As a part of the state government, the DLNR regulates park environments and protects the inhabitants to the best of their ability.