The Hawaiian Islands exhibit some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. These ecosystems range from tropical rainforests to alpine deserts. One ecosystem that you can find on all of the Hawaiian Islands is a rainforest known as a Tropical Montane Cloud Forest (TMCF). In fact, just look up at the Koʻolau mountains on any given day and you’ll likely see low lying clouds hiding the peaks. These clouds often surround the summit on even the sunniest days and cast shadows upon the valleys. But what really is a TMCF and why are they important to us?
What are “Tropical Montane Cloud Forests”? As the name suggest it is an atmospheric environment where the vegetation level is enveloped in clouds frequently or seasonally. They are a unique ecosystem that can be found between 3,000 -4,000 ft., with some starting as low as 1,650 ft. There are two general types of cloud forests that exist depending on amount of rainfall they receive. One is a wet windward TMCF and the other is a drier leeward TMCF. The Koʻolau mountain range falls into the first type of cloud forest, which has heavy orthographic rainfall with high annual precipitation.
Why are they important to us? Environmentally cloud forests are important to island people because they act as a starting point to our ahupuaʻa and help supply our downstream ecosystems with water. TMCFs are of high interest in research because of the value they give to an island hydrologic system. In times of drought cloud forests supply dry streambeds with water and help restore the island’s water reserve. Cloud water interception has now been identified as a biological source of water in mountain areas. However, many things still remain unknown about these isolated ecosystems.
By defining and understanding TMCFs we learn how to care for these important ecological resources and ultimately become better stewards of our ʻāina. Culturally, Hawaiians understood the importance of cloud forests and held a deep appreciation for their entire ahupuaʻa. The bond between Hawaiians and nature was truly unique and they developed names to describe the natural phenomena around them. These included the clouds, fog, and mist that develop on the island’s high mountain forests. The fog or clouds on the mountains were described by the Hawaiian word ‘Ohu and translates "to be adorned as with lei” perhaps to reference the ring of clouds that often encircle the Koʻolau peaks.
The natural water cycle provided by cloud forests help to cleanse and preserve the ecosystems from mauka to makai. The water resources provided by clouds forests eventually flow naturally throughout our biodiverse watersheds which ultimately help filter impurities and rejuvenate the lower lying ecosystems. HOK champions to effectively manage and protect our water resources. Protection of water quality and natural resources here in the Koʻolaupoko region begins with our upper most ecosystems. Your financial contributions and volunteer participation in our programs allows us to continue our mission.
By: Jordan Kilbey HOK Board of Directors Vice President
The mission of Hui o Ko`olaupoko is to protect ocean health by restoring the `aina: mauka to makai. This is done in partnership with stakeholders including interested citizens, non-governmental organizations, government, educational institutions and businesses while using and focusing on sound ecological principles, community input, and cultural heritage.