Hawaii Atlas Projects

Over the course of the past two centuries, the Hawaiian Islands have been transformed from a rural tropical archipelago to a highly developed and urbanized American state. Development, however, has not affected each of the eight islands equally.  The island of Hawai‘i (also known as the “Big Island”), remains mostly rural, while O‘ahu, as the site of the state capital of Honolulu, has been most heavily developed.  These two contrasting islands each face imminent environmental issues, but their respective issues vary because of different human development patterns. In contrast to the Big Island, it is impossible to describe O‘ahu’s geological, biological and oceanographic features without acknowledging human impact. Urbanization has created permanent changes in the landscape in the forms of erosion, species introductions and extinctions, and dramatic shifts in the marine ecosystem.

The human environment of Hawai‘i is a complex, multiracial landscape. From the arrivals of the first Polynesian voyagers to the modern immigrants of today, Hawai‘i has become a melting pot in the Pacific. Native Hawaiians are less than 10% of the population, yet the tourism industry that drives the state depends heavily on marketing Polynesian culture. The Native Hawaiian population was decimated by disease in the nineteenth century and missionaries, entrepreneurs, laborers, and other immigrants from all over the world have reshaped the ethnic makeup of the islands.