A world in a shell: The disappearing snails of Hawaii
University of Sydney, Australia
On 1 January 2019, George the Hawaiian tree snail died in a small captive breeding facility on the island of O’ahu. With this death, yet another species of island snail, Achatinella apexfulva, slipped out of the world. But this is by no means the only such extinction to take place in recent years. While the Hawaiian Islands were once home to one of the most diverse assemblages of terrestrial snail diversity found anywhere on earth, the majority of these species are today thought to be gone. This lecture explores this larger context of loss, asking what it means and why it matters that so much of Hawaii’s rich snail diversity is disappearing. It does so, however, through a focus on one very particular question: how did a global centre of terrestrial snail diversity end up out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Snails, after all, are not commonly known for their propensity to undertake long journeys—not by land, and certainly not by sea. So, how did they all get to this most remote oceanic archipelago? Equally as importantly at our present time, how might the ongoing extinctions of snails be understood differently if we pay attention to these deep-time processes? What might this context help us to see, appreciate, and perhaps hold onto?
Thom van Dooren is Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the University of Sydney, Australia. His research and writing focus on some of the many philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places. He is the author of Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (2014), The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (2019), and co-editor of Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (2017), all published by Columbia University Press. www.thomvandooren.org