"Where have all the flowers gone?.."

This refrain from one of the most popular songs of the turbulent 60's, penned by Pete Seeger and performed by Peter Paul & Mary, serves as introduction to Issue #3 of OUR ENVIRONMENT -- ONLINE.

These days the question is not only "where have all the flowers gone?" but where have all the birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, trees, fish and other species gone? Species extinction and the loss of biodiversity rank as one of the most compelling environmental problems now facing the planet. According to many scientists we are now in the midst of the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs disappeared from the planet. Perhaps even more troubling, we are losing many species before they have been described by scientists -- we literally don't know what we are losing.

What we do know is troubling. This biological disaster is being caused by our species. Loss of habitat, caused by man, is the number one cause of extinction. Every day we occupy more of the land, pollute more of the air and water, destroy more and more of the planet's wilderness and once pristine ecosystems. Global travel and commerce are increasing the rate of alien species introduction, inundating many areas with new and aggressive life forms that successfully prey on native species. The overall result is a species extinction rate thousands of times greater than that observed in nature.

OUR ENVIRONMENT -- ONLINE is a Hawaii-based publication. And nowhere on the planet is the extinction crisis more acute than here. With just .02% of the US landmass Hawaii is home to 75% of the historically-documented plant and bird species extinctions. Of all US bird species currently listed as endangered 40% are Hawaii species. 31% of the 271 endangered US plant species are from Hawaii. Known far and wide as a tropical paradise, Hawaii is fast losing much of the biological treasure that makes our island home justly famous.

With all of this in mind we return home for this issue of OUR ENVIRONMENT -- ONLINE. It is our hope that by examining the scope of Hawaii's problem we can help illuminate this global crisis. Here in Hawaii the fight to save our biological resources involves a variety of public and private organizations. Among the leaders are the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Partners in protection, these organizations have produced a valuable booklet entitled "Hawaii's Extinction Crisis: A Call To Action." A concise and authoritative overview of the state of our state's situation, this publication provides much of the information in this issue and we thank these organizations for allowing us to reprint this publication. We are also indebted to photographers Ron Dahlquist, Jack Jeffrey, and Robert Gustafson for their photos of Hawaii species. For more information on Hawaii's extinction crisis, and how we can help, please contact the Maui office of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii via email at natconma@maui.net or by telephone at (808) 582-7849.

But the extinction crisis is not confined to the Aloha State. A truly global problem, loss of biodiversity effects every citizen of planet Earth. With this in mind we have included an extensive collection of links to related presentations available on the World Wide Web. It is our hope that you will explore these as well, and that you will make a personal decision to become involved in supporting the work of the organizations and individuals working on this problem worldwide.

As always we have also included our periodic overview of environmental news and views from the environmental and mainstream press as well. We urge you to take a close look at "SEEN & NOTED" for more information on a wide range of environmental topics.

This issue of OUR ENVIRONMENT -- ONLINE marks the end of our first year of Web-based publication. Thanks again to all of you who have supported our work and have contributed your ideas, feedback and encouragement.

Aloha from Maui,

Jeff Stark, Publisher -- OUR ENVIRONMENT -- ONLINE