Hawaiian plants and animals began to evolve over 70 million years ago in nearly complete isolation and over 90% of the native terrestrial flora and fauna in Hawai'i are found only in the Hawaiian islands. This level of endemism surpasses all other places on Earth— even the Galapagos Islands. Consequently, the Park is a fantastic laboratory for the study of biogeography and evolution within the Pacific Islands.
Accessibility to the ongoing eruptions of Kilauea Volcano and the periodic eruptions of Mauna Loa, offers opportunity for the scientist and casual observer alike, to witness the formation of an array of astounding geologic features including new cinder cones, glowing pit craters, rivers of lava and fountains of spatter. The island of Hawai'i actually consists of five volcanoes as part of a volcanic chain of islands created over a 70-million-year period by the northwestward movement of the ocean floor over a fixed hot spot in the Earth's mantle. Molten rock rising from this hot spot, about 60 to 70 miles beneath the ocean floor, is currently fueling the continuous eruptions of Kilauea Volcano within the park.
Volcanic topography has created a striking elevational gradient within the park sweeping from Mauna Loa's vast alpine crater at 13,677 feet in elevation down to wind-swept coastal shores. Moisture from tradewinds creates extremes in rainfall within the Park supporting a wide diversity of lifezones and habitats. Seven ecological life zones include seacoast, lowland, mid-elevation woodland, rain forest, upland forest and woodland, sub-alpine and alpine/aeolian are included within park boundaries. The park is one of the few remaining natural areas in Hawai'i protecting contiguous habitat from sea to summit.