KILAUEA, HI — This plant can take over a river from just one leaf.
It starts along the banks and forms a thick mat across the top of the water, blocking sunlight and changing the ecosystem underneath as it grows.
And with Kauai’s connected waterways, it is currently spreading without remorse.
“Salvinia starves the river of sunlight and oxygen, but also when it decomposes, it falls to the bottom and changes the system; turns it into more marshy,” said Justin Goggins, biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources.
Bill Fernandez remembers Dec. 7, 1941 as a day of stark contrast on Kauai.
“It was one of the most beautiful Hawaiian days. The sun was shining and the ocean was calm,” he said.
His family returned from 7 a.m. mass around 9 that morning, flipped on the radio at their Kapaa home and that’s when the winds changed.
“It said, ‘We’re under attack by the Japanese and this is no drill. We’re under attack and we’re going off the air. Everybody stay indoors.’” said Fernandez. “That was the first knowledge we had of the Pearl Harbor attack on the island of Kauai.”
So the first thing Fernandez did — he was 10 years old at the time — is run out the door to look for the airplanes.
“My mother yelled and screamed, but that didn’t daunt me,” he said. “I had an air rifle BB gun and I went down to the beach to see if there was an invasion force coming.”
It was curiosity that drove him to the beach, he said, and throughout the years that followed that same sense of curiosity led him to make friends with many of the soldiers and National Guardsmen on Kauai.
Gas masks arrived for the people about a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Fernandez said he walked to and from school daily with the mask. There were even drills at school that taught the kids how to use them in the case of a gas attack.
“We were told to go into this room with the mask on and it had been all set up for the infusion of tear gas,” he said. “They told us to go in and open it up and take a sniff or two of tear gas.”