Early in December 2018, my wife and I took what was the longest and most anticipated vacation in 30 years. We had always wanted to go to Disney World (actually, she more than I). Finally, last year, we were able to begin planning for our trip in early December. It became a daily topic of conversation in anticipation of our departure date. The most discussed and anticipated attraction was the 3D Avatar exhibit was
the Fight of Passage-a computer simulation of a ride atop a Banshee “high over the world of Pandora.” Exhilarating for sure, but, the subject of this story begins as we were being prepped for the ride. 

Standing in the “prep” chamber listening to the scientist’s briefing over the loudspeaker, the voice began its story,

“For years humans abused the land, harming Pandora’s fragile ecosystem until a group called the Pandora Conservation Initiative began to track the world’s various keystone species-specific animals or plants that support the ecosystem as a whole. One of those is the Banshee, who lives in Pandora’s floating mountains. As a result, PCI has begun using an updated version of the avatar mind-linking technology to monitor their progress.” 
(From: Best of Orlando, June 8, 2017)

That one phrase-the single phrase that grabbed my brain. KEYSTONE SPECIES. I had never heard that particular phrase and it sent me an immediate message. I got it. Right there and then. Hilariously, we “road the Banshee“ three times back to back that night. I could not get that message-keystone species-out of my mind. I began to think about some of the species I knew in my own backyard that had declining populations and wondering if they would be considered keystone species. What was the visible decline in population telling me? What should it be telling me?  

Avatar and the Banshee? Sure, just fiction. But, are there really keystone species in our world that we need to be paying attention to? And are the population dynamics of particular species giving us information from which we should be making very important inferences?  

Scientists will, of course, say yes. The fact is, scientists commonly make inferences and draw conclusions about our world based primarily on the effects that a phenomenon or occurrence produces.  

Quoting the book, Science you Can’t See, “sometimes scientists ask questions about things that are not immediately observable. ……………… In these instances, scientists use inferential reasoning to figure out answers to their questions based on evidence gathered through observations and from information …………..”

The most well-known example would probably Sir Isaac Newton’s gravity apple experiment. Most people on this earth believe that God exists, but, have never seen him. They know in their hearts he is there based on their observation of the effects of his presence.

Now, admittedly, my thoughts on this subject became less frequent once we returned from Disney World
and time passed. Until we took another highly anticipated vacation to Hawaii. This was important to us, as Joanne had never seen the Arizona Memorial and other historical sites that marked the war activity. But, it was on the second leg of the trip that thoughts of keystone species began to come back into my consciousness. During one great week on the Big Island we visited the South Shore’s Black Sand Beach at Punalu’u and visited the green sea turtles basking in the sun and frolicking in the surf. 

Standing there, on the lava rock, watching the slow determination of the turtles crawling up onto the sand, and yet, juxtaposed by the 3 or 4 feeding and swimming just 50 feet or so from the shoreline, I began to think again about this potential keystone species. Green sea turtles are, in fact, an endangered species. This species has undergone a near 90 percent decline in the past 50 years or so. Largely due to habitat losses, diseases pollution near the shoreline and over-hunting. Fortunately, due to Federal protection and aggressive conservation efforts, the Green Sea Turtle population seems to be recovering.

Logic tells me to believe the evidence and make the inference that things are happening to our world and our environment. In the Pacific Northwest, especially, we watch closely the decline of the Orca population, which is partially tied to a decline in its food source-salmon. Does the decline of the salmon indicate that we humans are doing something to harm the salmon habitat?

Does the increasing scarcity of some of my backyard bird species indicate a loss of habitat? 

Is the Green Sea Turtle telling us that we can, indeed, fix this?

To those who are paying attention to those keystone indicators, the answers are obvious. But, we don’t really have to take anyone’s word for it. We can make these observations ourselves and draw our own conclusions. And do the right thing.


  1. Thank you for bringing to the forefront the need for all of us to become environmentalists. Whether it be flowers, trees, birds, or other animals, they all suffer at the hand of humankind. I can only imagine how regal the sea turtles were up close. Appreciate you sharing and being a part of this group.

  2. Ralph, Mahalo for sharing your thoughts on keystone species and reminding us that the world is not all doom and gloom. Humans do destroy, but we can also rejuvenate.

  3. Great essay, Ralph. It was great to meet you. Come back soon.



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