When the Polynesians set out to find Hawai‘i, like all explorers, they did not know what they would find so they packed carefully, bringing food and other essentials to help them survive in the new land. Modern travelers do the same, whether heading to a new town or a new planet, yet, even with all the preparations, there are still surprises—sometimes in the way those essential items can affect the final destination.
This is the first in a series of three articles looking at efforts to protect the places we journey to from the things we journey with.
The farther you travel the more preparations you make. And for exploring the far reaches of our known universe, preparations take years. When the first astronauts walked on the moon, they were understandably more interested in what they would find than what they would leave behind. But the possibility of contaminating distant lunar or planetary bodies was on the mind of many scientists at the time. Contamination could compromise scientific experiments, invalidating any proof of life on anther planet. Or an organism from earth could become invasive—altering or destroying life on a distant planet.
With these concerns in mind, the U.S. National Academy of Scientists passed a resolution in 1958 urging scientists to “plan lunar and planetary studies with great care and deep concern so that initial operations do not compromise and make impossible forever after critical scientific experiments.” Soon thereafter, NASA’s planetary protection office was created, with a focus on preventing both forward contamination–earth microbes into space– and back contamination—alien microbes back to earth.
To reduce the likelihood of forward contamination, spacecraft are built in cleanrooms designed to reduce the amount of dust and bacteria landing on a spacecraft. Workers must wear protective clothing so they do not leave behind hair or bacteria. And once the spacecraft is built, it is sterilized, either by baking in a giant oven at 325˚F for 30 hours or by treating it with vaporized hydrogen peroxide.
The level of planetary protection varies by the type of mission and destination. For example, an orbiter mission to Mars has a lower probability of contamination than a probe actually landing on the planet, so the cleaning requirements would be less rigorous – what’s known in space lingo as acceptable levels of biological burden. .
And as for what comes back to earth? There are protocols for that as well. When the astronauts from Apollo 11 splashed down south of Johnston Atoll in the middle of the Pacific in 1969, the recovery crew passed biological isolation garments into the hatch and resealed it. Donned in their new attire, they climbed aboard rafts and were sponged off with bleach before entering a quarantine facility aboard the rescue ship where they were isolated for 2 weeks and observed for infections from lunar pathogens. Subsequent missions Apollo 12 and 13 had similar protocols, but NASA has since classified the moon as devoid of life and relaxed decontamination for lunar missions.
NASA’s planetary protection office is tasked with protecting life in the universe from accidental movement of organisms between celestial bodies. But the goal of planetary protection is not so different from the responsibilities facing the quarantine branch of the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, doing its best to prevent both forward and back contamination on our little planet of Hawai‘i. The impacts of alien contamination coming into our state can be catastrophic—think fire ants or snakes. You can do your part on your next exploration to reduce the “biological burden,” even if it just means brushing your boots before a hike or checking plants you bring onto your property to ensure you aren’t introducing an “alien” contaminants.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, January 12th, 2014 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Transcription of Invasion: Little Fire Ants in Hawaii
Narrator: There is a new, invasive, stinging ant now established on the BigIsland that threatens the environment, the economy, and the way of life on all the Hawaiian Islands.
Una Greenaway: How could this be? How could I not know about this? How could this be something that’s going to threaten me so badly and I’ve never heard of it?
Darcy Oishi: When you look in the grand scheme of things, the nastiest of the invasive ants, with the greatest impact on Hawai’i is the little fire ant.
Dan Domizio: A guy came in with his back completely covered with fire ant bites. I would guess two hundred, three hundred bites.
Mia Langer: They’d crawl up our legs, they were on our couches, in our beds, in my dresser. Millions of ‘em. They were just everywhere.
Teya Penniman: I’ve been the manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee for more than a decade. Working with an amazing team of people, staff, partners, working to control and eradicate the most harmful species across Maui Nui. I’ve had the opportunity to work on issues statewide. Traveling to BigIsland, Kaua’i, and Tahiti, I’ve seen just how devastating the little fire ant can be and my concern has only grown. I’m now convinced that without an extraordinary effort, the little fire ant will be a catastrophe for Hawai’i.
Narrator: The little fire ant is native to South America. Moved by human travel and commerce the ants have spread to many islands in the Pacific with devastating impacts. In 1999, little fire ants were discovered in Puna on the BigIsland. Now they are widespread in Hāmākua, Hilo, and Puna, from Waipi’o to Kalapana. By 2011 they had spread to Kona and are now established in many sites. In 1999, they were found in Kalihiwai on Kaua’i, and in 2009 a small infestation was confirmed in Waihe’e, Maui.
Dr. Cas Vanderwoude in an expert on the little fire ant who has worked on ants throughout the Pacific. He is now based in Hilo as Hawai’i’s ant specialist.
Cas Vanderwoude: I was working on a project in New Guinea and the locals there took me to a place that was infested with little fire ants. And the impacts were so extraordinary, the problems that this species caused were so huge, that it was sort of a bit of a turning point for me, I guess, and from that time onward I spent more and more of my time working researching ways to control this species and also looking at the kind of impacts this species has on both people, and on the environment, and on agriculture.
Now with little fire ants, we have colonies with lots and lots of queens. So if one queen dies, it’s not that important because there are other queens that will take her place. And those queens will stay with that parent colony, or walk away a few feet, or a few yards so that they remain connected to the parent colony all the time where really most scientists would consider that network to be a single colony and we would call that a super colony. Super colonies can span many aces, many thousands of acres in some cases where all the workers you would find all work together and cooperate with each other.
Narrator: The Hawaiian Islands are in the early stages of infestation. Unless we stop their spread, little fire ants will form massive super colonies on each island changing Hawai’i forever.
Cas Vanderwoude: Most ants like open, sunny, kind of drier places, but little fire ants are much more of a rainforest species. They like it shady, they like it wet, and they like to live in trees, which again, most ants will nest in the ground and then actually forage on trees but these will look for places to set up their nests in the trees themselves. For an arboreal species, for a species that like to live in trees, they’re not actually very good at hanging on. So even a small bump to vegetation will result in a rain of these little ants falling down onto the person or the animal that’s bumped the tree.
Paul Kealoha: We got rained upon by all of these fire ants. We didn’t know what it was, but it was very, very painful it was. Like burning after that, just had to go take a shower and it still was burning after that.
Dan Domizio: The sting’s actually very small and a lot of people don’t notice that it’s an insect that stung them. What they end up with is, a few minutes after being stung, they end up with a rash.
It was like, what is this rash? Intensely itchy, painful rash. And the itch, if you can not scratch is manageable, manageable if you don’t scratch. But kids scratch and adults scratch. And you know it’s just very hard to not go, I have a fire ant bite right here, it’s very hard for me to not dig at it right now cause it’s itching me.
Mia Langer: They were so itchy, they were so, so itchy and I mean even a day or two after I got bit they were still itchy. They hurt for a long time and they leave scars, too cause I would scratch them I guess.
Dan Domizio: The pattern of fire ant bites is that they disappear for a while and then they come back, they disappear for a while and then they come back. And over three or four days, on day three it can be just as itchy as it was on day one. The next level of concern is infection, that’s when people dig at it. And around here when you have an open sore, you’re going to get infected. You’re gonna get a staphylococcal infection and then chances are really good that it’s gonna be MERSA and so that’s what we are dealing with at the clinic.
Mia Langer: Yeah, well I remember the first time Michaela got bit by a fire ant. It bit her on her chest and it swelled and it was red and it was really angry looking and I think she was maybe not even a month old, I think, and I just freaked out.
Michael Bethke: You know we’d sit and the couch and you’d look on the ground and you’d see ants, you know, right under you. So we couldn’t put her on the ground.
Mia Langer: You’d have to dust your feet off before you sat on the couch or got into bed. Shake your towels out, your clothes out. They were just everywhere. It was everywhere.
Leah Gouker: Now, it’s just really a prevalent problem. They’re everywhere. I think everybody would have a story about an infestation in their homes, in their cars. They’re all over in the schools. Prior to the very recent treatment of this school, they were in my classroom. It’s challenging in an elementary school and an edible garden. I had to let all the parents know, we have this problem. If you kid comes home with a…you know, make sure that none of them have allergies. But everybody at one point or another got a bite or two. The custodians, I mean they a hard time maintaining the campus because all of the foliage around the campus was just loaded.
Romero Domingo: So, when they did the septic tank they brought in materials and they brought in cinder, so I’m thinking that they probably brought in the ants too. We never had that problem before. And then whatever we move around, the materials, you spread around for the campus, so we probably spread it more.
Narrator: People are being stung in their homes, at work, and in parks. Public land and wild places may be abandoned to the ants. Hunting, hiking, and even beach trips will not be the same. The ants have already infested parks in the Hilo area.
Paul Kealoha: We notice because it’s around out tower. And then for some of the people that lay out on the grass or sometimes they lay out on the far side, over there and they come telling us they’re getting bit. It falls off the trees, too, sometimes. It falls onto the beach patrons and they come up, something’s burning their neck and…[sigh]. It’s a really bright, bright day you see the little ant cause it’s really small. That thing actually went with us to our homes. That’s the, that’s the bad part. In our cars. They spread and end up in your bed and you get a bite in the night and not a good feeling. Yeah, it’s getting worse, it’s getting worse.
Cas Vanderwoude: But for people that live a subsistence lifestyle, that live, you know, very firmly connected with the land, that produce most of their own food and the things that they need from their own land. And they have to suffer the crop losses or the economic losses or the production losses and there’s not a lot that they can do about it.
Mariuti Ioane via translator: Everywhere, there’s not, not one spot without ants. If he didn’t treat, he’d have no life, no income. So, t he ant has been here for six years and he’s been able to contain it right on his property and trying to find a way to get rid of it.
Cas Vanderwoude: Some of the people I talk to they feel really trapped because they don’t have the ability either financially or technically to actually deal with these issues, so it just adds an extra burden to their life.
Moeana Besa via translator: They don’t even want to eat their bananas any more. The pineapple is full of ants. The ants get into the taro.
Donna Lee: What was it like before the ants came, living here?
Moeana Besa via translator: A lot of food. It was really nice. A lot of food. Paradise. It was paradise, but they don’t give up.
Teya Penniman: How long has the land in this area been a part of her family?
Moeana Besa via translator: Generations.
Teya Penniman: How often do you get stung?
Moeana Besa via translator: Everyday, everyday, everyday. When the wind is really strong, don’t come outside. A lot of people have abandoned their land already. Her cousin abandoned his land, up there they abandoned they’re land. They left. They don’t wasn’t to live here anymore. They gave up.
Jean-Yves Meyer: So Tahiti is the most populated island in French Polynesia. It is also the biggest one with the tallest peaks and mountains, so it has the richest biodiversity in French Polynesia. We’ve got about 850 native plants including 550 endemics. If some colonies are accidentally moved to those higher elevation areas it would be an ecological disaster.
Narrator: Like Tahiti, Hawai’i is an evolutionary showcase with an exceptionally high number of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Little fire ants have the ability to transform and decimate native places and species. Forest birds and ground nesting sea birds are at risk along with sea turtle hatchlings. Even the smallest creatures, bugs, beetles, and spiders are vulnerable. In some infested areas of New Caledonia, little fire ants now dominate, making up more than 90% of insects with impacts cascading throughout entire ecosystems.
Fern Duvall: Hawai’i’s got quite a remarkable number of seabirds for the area. We have 23 breeding species of seabirds. Probably 20 would be directly threatened by ants in a large way. And all of them have this really long incubation period and long defenseless period. This about a month old chick of a wedgetailed shearwater and you can see it’s pretty helpless. There’s no tail feathers or wing feathers. A big, fat, ball of down. These birds are particularly susceptible to ants during the period of time when the egg is ready to hatch. It makes a hole in the egg shell which allows ants and things to actually enter it and to start directly attacking the chick inside of the egg. If ants were to get into some of the of the low wet forests like I’ve heard that they’ve done in other areas, they may be the thing that would push Newell Shearwaters and low elevation nesting Hawaiian Petrels or other endangered species over the edge.
Colleen Schrandt: The effect that it has on pets. The blinding and I’m sure it’s got to be very painful for them to be constantly being bitten or stung.
Eric Loeve: At start she was loving to go in the bush. Now she stays home. She is blind.
Fauna Parker: One time we did witness a bite on the eye. He came in right after and just ferociously rubbing his eye. You know, he was in a lot of pain for a while. You could tell. A few hours, sat and just licked and rubbed his eye.
Colleen Schrandt: The black one who is affected the most, if I pick him up, it never fails, he’s got fire ants in his fur. I’m bitten every time I pick him up.
Dan Domizio: Every single animal we have, we have three cats and two dogs and every single one of them has a, have clouded cornea. There’s no question that the fire ants and the clouded cornea come together I don’t know how you prove it.
Colleen Schrandt: Being here I know, I know that’s what ‘s doing it. Feeling the stings, I’m sure that it’s the fire ants.
Dan Domizio: We’re animal lovers, yeah. They’re very much a part of the family.
Teya Penniman: When I first heard that the little fire ant had arrived on Maui, my heart sank because I knew what a threat it posed and knew what the challenges are associated with trying to control a pest species that is so small, but that can be so powerfully damaging.
Christina Chang: When we were making a banana delivery my glasses had dropped to the ground and when I picked them up and put them on I got bit on the eye. And it was so severe. I had to, like, run to the house and put ice on my eye. I had to lay down and the thought came that, I wonder if this is the fire ant. Initially when they came out to do the testing, so they put the peanut butter sticks everywhere, where we felt the ant, we’d experienced the ant. And it came back positive. It was evident that the destruction that the fire ant can bring to an island, which is what’s happening on the BigIsland, is something we did not want to happen here on Maui. Then whatever contribution we could make to help prevent the fire ant from coming to Maui we were going to make.
Darcy Oishi: So Maui was a good small scale test case. And Kaua’i presents a good opportunity for a large scale test case on eradication.
Keren Gundersen: Right here we’re on KalihiwaiBeach. It’s a beautiful sandy scape and it abuts this cliff side area. The ant infestation is actually along that cliff line around the corner.
Nelson Armitage: And as I got to the bottom of the cliff where i go holoholo and I could feel some bites all over my shoulders and my back and I was like, ho, what is this? And then I could see some ants was on top of me. When it’s wet, you’re always grabbing trees, grabbing the rope, so I guess that’s what kinda makes ‘em all come down too on you. And you’re getting bit going down the trail and it’s like, ahhh. That’s the trail we use all the time and that would be the trail I would take my son down there and having the ants fall on top of him and getting bit up, that’d be a big concern for me. I wouldn’t want that happening.
David Sproat: Well, some landscaper came and you know, landscaped the property down below here and two fire ants were in that particular plant and now we have a colony. It’s really bothered us and so I asked that question. How and why, where did this fire ant come from?
Keren Gundersen: Historically, the little fire ant arrived to Kaua’i in 1999 on a shipment of palms. So the original infestation was only about five acres. It was believed to be eradicated, but what had actually happened was that it was brought to undetectable levels. And unfortunately now it’s about twelve to fifteen acres. Without Department of Ag’s containing it on that edge, it would have spread across that property and on to the next one. It would be devastating to have it infest this area, one of the nicest beaches on Kaua’i.
Narrator: Farming is woven into Hawai’i’s history and is key to a sustainable future. Healthy are a critical component of farming. The pollination of crops, honey production, and Hawai’i’s Queen Bee industry face a new threat.
Diki Short: The bee industry is important wherever you are. All our hives have succumbed to LFA because LFA is a protein eater and the larval stage of the bees are very susceptible. If you have LFA and they’re close to your hive and they can get up and into that hive, they’ll probably take your hive down. I think it’s much more dangerous than the varroa mite.
Narrator: Both local and export agriculture and our hopes for food security are at risk because of the little fire ant. In addition to stinging agricultural workers, little fire ants can weaken plants by farming insects like aphids and mealy bugs.
Cas Vanderwoude: Those insects secrete a sugary substance that the ants use as a source of energy. So the ants have a huge source of energy that allows them expand and grow and farm yet more mealy bugs and scale insects which makes the plant sicker and sicker. That decline in health could result in quite substantial crop losses.
John Cross: I grow macadamia nuts, coffee. I have lychee, mangosteen, orchids. Just a little bit of everything. A diversified crop farm.
Kim Higbee: I was going to grow four to eight acres of palms for hearts of palm, a couple acres bamboo nursery. So by the time we discovered them, we had millions and millions and millions. The palms are not harvestable because of the ants. I’m out of business. Totally. Little fire ant.
John Cross: Now I have fire ants in my lychee crop. You’re in there with the panicles and you’re trying to grab your lychee and cut it and all that. You get them on you. I watched them as they were shaking all these ants off of them. And basically it was raining ants. Raining fire ants on them from the lychee.
Colleen Schrandt: The cost of trying to actually control fifteen acres when there are literally, you can ask Cas, but I’m sure hundreds of thousands in one tree. And finding people willing to work in the orchard is extremely difficult. I really think that this is the most devastating invasive that we have.
Una Grennaway: When I heard about the little fire ant I was really appalled and really scared. We’d be in very big trouble if it came into our coffee lands. We harvest off the tree and these branches are always leaning over us. Harvesting anything from a tree is going to be very, very, very difficult. And it will greatly impact agriculture. I mean, agriculture as we know it will not be here.
Russell Kokubun: Wearing my hat as the chair of the board of agriculture, I see little fire ant as being a very significant threat. We need to address this quickly.
Carol Okada: When you look at our mandate, what is it to do? It’s not just to protect agriculture, it’s not just to protect the environment, it is to protect the native biota, it’s to protect the public health. We can’t do it all. And that is very frustrating. It’s hard choices. It’s choosing between snakes or between, do we look at all the fish coming in because they may have pirahnas in them. Or do we look about what we’re not doing now which is the weedy plants. We’re so dependent on food, imported food, that we can’t let our stores or restaurants go empty. So we’re forced to get it out. Whether or not there are pests on them, we’re forced to get them out. We still get a sampling of interceptions. You know things are getting through and now what do we do from here.
Russell Kokubun: So invasive species and the little fire ant in particular are very problematic because they will inhibit, I think, agricultural expansion.
Carol Okada: So I think, it is impacting our growers. I think they’re finding that the ant is moving and where they didn’t have a problem a couple years ago, I think everyone is concerned this pest is moving from area to area and how do you deal with it. I think that’s the difficulty with this. It’s the size of the pest. This particular one is so small that you really have to look for it. Because we’re already considered a high risk pathway for the spreading of pests to the continental US, the presence of little fire ant in these nursery shipments or these flower shipments has heightened the concern that it will cause a California embargo.
Russell Kokubun:California’s gotten very, very restrictive in terms of what we can export from Hawaii to their markets. So they’re, you know, they’re really kind of on the verge of closing us down.
John Cross: If they find out that they cannot export their crop. Or, or sell it, at all. I think they’ll be very concerned. But because most people don’t have it, or haven’t been stung, bitten, they don’t know the effect. they don’t know that this is a very serious insect.
Teya Penniman: Because our islands are connected, you have to have real, meaningful, ongoing inspection, detection, reporting capabilities, because without that we will get it. It will become established and it will spread in the Pacific.
Darcy Oishi: The ant is essentially gonna be, is here to stay on the BigIsland and that’s just the reality and what we’re gonna be doing is mitigating effects, essentially forever. What we need is a good detection network so we can respond quickly and eradicate it before LFA gets a good foothold.
Teya Penniman: To do that we need more support for our inspectors. We need more inspectors. We need sniffer dogs, dog detectors and handlers. We need to have the industry, the shipping industry to be involved and supportive. We need to stop [the ants] from moving between islands. And that’s why it’s so important for people everywhere to become aware of what it looks like, what it does, how to report it, and to demand the tools and the resources to address it when it does become established. We need support from our legislators, our elected officials, county officials, federal officials, and we need everyone to be involved.
John Cross: There’s on thing that that little ant really loves, and it’s peanut butter.
Una Greenaway: So you take a chopstick and thinly coat it with peanut butter on one end and lay it in the areas where you think you might have little fire ant. Be it a potted plant you’re bringing onto your property or a banana tree you’ve already planted or a palm you’ve already planted, they really do like moisture. It’s really not difficult, at all. Within forty five minutes, the sticks will have the little fire ant on them. They’re very small, but you should be able to see them. And of course if you do find them, you want to put that little stick in a plastic bag, freeze it to kill it, and then send it to the Department of Agriculture so that they can make a positive ID because there actually are quite a few stinging ants on the islands and they’re only able to actually positively ID them with a microscope.
Teya Penniman: We need for people to understand just how serious this problem is and to ask, demand, support action to stop it now while we still have a chance.
This is the situation the Department of Land and Natural Resources-Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) faces at Kāne‘ohe Bay on O‘ahu. An invasive algae, Kappaphycus spp., also known as smothering seaweed has overrun the reef causing a cascade of impacts. “They’re so aggressive they outcompete native limu [seaweed]; they grow so dense they kill coral and dominate habitat for tako [octopus] and small fish,” explains Jono Blodgett, aquatic species project leader with DAR.
First DAR tackled the alien algae with the Super Sucker, a giant vacuum mounted on a boat. Divers worked their way across the reef, sucking up the algae. Technicians would sort through it, tossing native limu back to colonize the reef, and bagging the invasive algae to give to local farmers to be used for compost. Unfortunately, gains were temporary–fragments of invasive algae left behind would regrow. DAR next called in native Hawaiian sea urchins with an appetite for invasive algae.
If the Super Sucker was a giant vacuum, native collector urchins (Tripneustes gratilla) are more like a Roomba, that small robotic vacuum that automatically cleans house floors. Once released, these spiny herbivores move across the reef munching algae as they find it. They would eat native limus as well, if the invasive algae hadn’t taken over all the natives.
The first urchins were released by DAR in January of 2011 and they’ve proven their worth. Although this urchin is native to Hawai‘i, it wasn’t abundant enough on the reef to control the algae in Kāne‘ohe Bay. Their numbers used to be much greater in the Bay, but unknown reasons have caused their populations to decline. By elevating the urchin populations, resource managers are getting ahead of the invasive algae.
The urchins used are a native species, selected because they stay on the reef and munch algae day and night. Adult urchins are collected from the wild and bred in captivity. After juvenile urchins reach 15mm, typically within 5-6 months, they are sent to work: released in Kāne‘ohe Bay to settle out over the reef and eat to their hearts’ content. Currently 5000 urchins are released each month in Kāne‘oheBay.
Density numbers are still being analyzed, but initially, urchins are released at a density of two per square meter and once the algae are under control, one urchin per square meter keeps the reef maintained. With some patch reefs as large as 30,000 square meters, it will take a lot of urchins. “We’re hoping to double production by next year,” says Blodgett.
Monitoring in Kāne‘ohe has shown that the collector urchins are effectively controlling invasive algae. Based on the success of the cleanup in Kāne‘oheBay, collector urchins could become invasive algae cleanup crews across the state. DAR has done trials to see if the urchins will control another alien alga: the gorilla ogo (Gracilaria salicornia) that plagues Waikīkī and much of Moloka‘i.
In the meantime, Blodgett advises leaving urchins and other herbivores alone and making sure dive and snorkel gear is free of any pieces of algae when you leave a site. Invasive algae spread through fragmentation, explains Blodgett, “Rinse gear before leaving a site.”
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, December 8th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
In 2009, Waihee farmer Christina Chang was stung on the eye by a tiny ant at her home on Maui. She suspected, and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture confirmed, that this ant was the little fire ant, Wasmannia auropunctata, never before found on Maui. The detection spurred creation of a new documentary, Invasion: Little Fire Ants in Hawaii.
Invasive species introductions to Hawaii often end in regret and a list of should-haves. This film, produced by the Maui Invasive Species Committee, aims to change the result of the arrival of little fire ants in Hawaii. Featuring videography from award-winning film makers Masako Cordray and Chris Reickert, this half-hour film examines the biology, impacts, and potential solutions to the spread of little fire ants through interviews with scientists, farmers, and community on the Big Island reeling from the impacts of this miniscule, but devastating, ant. Viewers will learn how to identify and report new infestations, helping to protect Hawaii from this small stinging ant
The Waihee site is on target for eradication. However, little fire ants have recently been detected moving between islands, raising concern about the establishment of new infestations. On Hawaii Island, the little fire ant is now widespread in the Hilo area where efforts are focused on educating landowners about control options. Infestations are now occurring on the Kona side as well. Research on effective control continues by the Hawaii Ant Lab, a joint project of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) and University of Hawaii. The little fire ant on Kauai is contained within a 12-acre area under active control by HDOA
The film will premiere on Maui January 8th at the McCoy Theater at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Doors open at 5pm. An awards ceremony and panel discussion will follow the screening. Food and beverages are available for purchase on site beginning at 4:30pm.
Screenings on other islands will follow. Please RSVP to email@example.com to reserve a seat. Below is the current screening schedule:
The film will also air throughout the state on KITV
Sat 1/11 630-7PM
Sunday 1/12 9-9:30AM
Sat 1/19 4-4:30PM
Sunday 1/20 10:30-11P
Funding and support for the film was provided by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, County of Maui-Office of Economic Development, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii Community Foundation-Pikake Fund, Maui Electric Company, Alexander and Baldwin Foundation, Tri-Isle RC&D. MISC and the Hawaii Ant Lab are collaborative projects of the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit.
Hawai‘i is the only state in the United States where coffee is grown commercially, and Hawaiian coffee, often synonymous with Kona, is beloved throughout the world. Coffee farms have started springing up on Maui in recent years. “There are maybe 20 times more coffee farmers than 10 years ago,” says Sydney Smith, owner of Māliko Estate Coffee and president of the Maui Coffee Association.
But a tiny bark beetle from Africa, Hypothenemus hampei, or coffee berry borer threatens the coffee industry throughout the state. The miniscule pest was first detected in Kona in 2010. It spread like wildfire reaching north Kona, Ka‘ū, Hāwī, and Hilo. The beetle lays eggs inside of coffee berries. Its larvae hatch and begin to feed, hollowing out the bean and leaving little to harvest and roast.
“Once infestation levels exceed 50% of the cherries in the field, the coffee is not worth picking,” says Rob Curtiss, entomologist with the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA). He explained that there are farms on Hawai‘i Island with 80-90% infestation. “After [the beetles] are in the coffee [fruit] there is nothing you can do to kill them.”
People are responsible for spreading coffee berry borers, says Curtiss. Moving infested beans and bags moves the insects. A few infested beans in the back of a pickup truck could mean the introduction of the pest to a new farm—where the beetle population then explodes. Each female can lay 120 eggs, of which there are 10 females for every male. When the females mature, they find a new coffee fruit, tunnel inside, and lay eggs immediately. Their life cycle is approximately 27 days, most of which occurs inside the coffee berry. “Every 30 or so days you can multiply the infestation by about 80,” says Curtiss. “In four months’ time one beetle becomes 40,960,000 beetles.”
Coffee farmers in Kona have been working closely with entomologists and researchers at the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawai‘i-College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (UH-CTAHR) to find effective ways to manage the infestation.
By combining several methods of control, some farmers on Hawai‘i Island have successfully reduced infestation levels to below 5%. This system of integrated pest management includes protocols for field sanitation, pruning, monitoring, pesticide application, harvest, and shipping. Instructions can be found in an online publication on the UH-CTAHR website titled “Recommendations for Coffee Berry Borer Integrated Pest Management in Hawai‘i 2013”
The long-term solution may lie in the discovery of an effective predator for the beetle. According to Curtiss, coffee berry borer is an ongoing target for biocontrol research for the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture. The department’s exploratory entomologist may someday make a promising discovery in Africa, the beetle’s native range.
Currently, an interisland quarantine restricts the movement of coffee plants and unroasted or untreated “green” coffee from Hawai‘i Island to prevent the pest’s spread to other islands.
Back on Maui, Sydney Smith has changed the way she runs her farm. “I used to give tours to visitors, but I
don’t do that anymore…I’ve removed coffee plants from near our vacation rental.” Smith’s actions stem from concerns that a visitor may have toured an infested coffee farm on Hawai‘i Island and unknowingly be transporting a beetle. “They’re little tiny things that can get in shoes and clothes.”
Coffee berry borer has thus far only been detected on Hawai‘i Island, but Maui coffee farmers have been trained on what to look for. “It’s not if—it’s when,” says Smith.
To learn more about coffee berry borer, visit the UH-CTAHR webpage: www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/cbb.aspx and the HDOA webpage: hdoa.hawaii.gov/pi/ppc/coffee-berry-borer-information-page.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, November 10th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Lori Buchanan, manager of Moloka‘i/Maui Invasive Species Committee (MoMISC), was in downtown Kaunakakai recently when she saw something strange sprouting out of the storm drain. It was a 3-foot tall seedling of a ficus—the very same tree she and her crew are working to remove from Moloka‘i.
Called the bo, peepul, or bodhi tree, Ficus religiosa is planted throughout Asia, Africa, and North America. According to legend, the Buddha sat beneath this species of tree when he meditated and attained enlightenment, hence it’s name. The Hindu deity Vishnu is reputed to have been born under a bo tree. These trees are often planted at Buddhist and Hindu temples. There is a bo tree at the Foster Botanical Garden on Oahu that is said to be a descendant of the tree under which Buddha sat.
Not that long ago, the bo tree couldn’t reproduce on its own in Hawai‘i; it only grew via cuttings. As a member of the Ficus family, it needs a specific wasp to pollinate its flowers in order to produce seeds. That wasp, Blastophaga quadraticeps, was not in Hawai‘i. The wasp crawls inside the minute flower to fertilize it. In 2007, when seedlings sprang up under the bo tree at Foster Garden, Hawai‘i entomologists knew the pollinator wasp had arrived.
The arrival of Blastophaga quadraticeps means that Hawai‘i has joined a relatively small list of places where Ficus religiosa can produce viable seed: India (where it’s native), Israel, and Florida. In Israel, the pollinator wasp fully invaded and Ficus religiosa now ranks alongside other Ficus as invasive and messy. Now that they produce fruit in Israel, purple figs stain the sidewalks, stick to shoes, and splatter cars left in the shade of a tree. Motorcyclists dodge slippery piles of fruit and beachgoers clean gummy residue off their gear.
On Moloka‘i, Buchanan isn’t worried about sidewalk saplings—she’s worried about the forests. “Birds spread the seeds and they [Ficus trees] can get into the forest and threaten the watershed,” she says. “They are prolific seeders and seedlings pop up wherever.” Bo tree could start to take over the native forest on Moloka‘i.
Ficus religiosa, like most Ficus, can grow almost epiphytically: a seedling doesn’t need soil initially but roots reach down until the find earth. Bo tree is technically more of a “splitter” than a strangler fig. Rather than smothering its host in roots, the seeds that sprout in the fork of a tree will send roots through the stem of the support tree, splitting it from the inside. It can find a home in sidewalks and drain sprouts, splitting those apart as well.
MoMISC is actively controlling this species on Moloka‘i, where less than a dozen trees
were planted. Only one site with mature trees remains, and Buchanan and her crew are busy hunting down seedlings until the landowner agrees to have the plant removed. On other islands bo tree is planted widely enough that resources are too limited to remove it. But choosing to not plant this tree will slow its spread.
You can help MoMISC by keeping an eye out for bo tree seedlings in Central Moloka‘i, specifically in Kala‘e and Kaunakakai. The bo tree has distinctive heart shaped leaves that extend at the tip. According to Buchanan, the plant most closely resembles the Polynesian “canoe plant” milo, which also grows in the same areas on Moloka‘i. Bo tree has more dark green to grey glossy leaves. Any sightings of bo tree on Moloka‘i should be reported to MoMISC, 954-6585.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, October 13th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
They saw the pitchfork leaf pattern and knew something was amiss. The unmistakable smell
of turpentine in a crushed leaf only added to concern. In January of 2011, a field crew with the O‘ahu Army Natural Resources Program (OANRP) was searching roadsides of the Kahuku training area on the north shore of O‘ahu. They noticed an unusual plant they had not seen before. Could it be devil weed? They sent a sample to specialists with the O‘ahu Invasive Species Committee. Their suspicions were confirmed. Devil weed, or Chromolaena odorata, lives up to its name: it has earned a place on the Invasive Species Specialist Group’s list of the worlds’ 100 worst invaders, alongside coqui frogs and brown tree snakes. The diabolical weed has already invaded Southeast Asia, parts of Africa, and Guam, and has now made to Hawai‘i .
Native to North America, devil weed is not a pest in its home range, possibly kept in check by natural enemies. Found throughout Florida, Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean, it attracts butterflies and bees with its fragrant flowers and goes by the much more innocent name of Jack-in-the-bush or blue mistflower. But elsewhere around the world, devil weed causes despair.
A pest in fields, pastures, and wilderness areas, this tangled shrub is fast growing and fertile, covering a foot each week a day. A single plant can make 800,000 seeds. Not surprisingly, it quickly smothers crops and native vegetation. Toxic to animals, it takes over pastureland as well. The bitter oils in the plant that render it toxic are volatile and infestations of this pest fuel wildfires. As devil weed rapidly invades disturbed areas, a fire cycle begins. In Hawai‘i , where ecosystems are not adapted to regular fires and native plants do not regenerate as fast as some invasive species a cycle of fire can mean the end of native habitat, particularly on the leeward sides of the islands.
Best estimates indicate that devil weed is a recent arrival; surveys in the area in 2009 and 2010 did not detect it. Today it is scattered over 900 acres of the Kahuku training area. Julia Parish, the manager of the O‘ahu Invasive Species Committee (OISC), says it’s possible to eradicate Kahuku populations, “But there’s a high risk for reintroduction on private vehicles coming in from across the Pacific region. [U.S.] Customs regularly intercepts Chromolaena on contaminated equipment and vehicles.”
OISC, along with OANRP, Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, the University of Hawai‘i , and Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources have teamed up to address devil weed in Hawai‘i .
The Kahuku training area is the weekend home of the KahukuMotocrossPark, and 400 acres of trails weave through the area. Kahuku is also popular with hunters and dirt bikers. OISC has been working closely with the Hawai‘i Motocross Association to get the word out about this demon to prevent further spread. According to Parish, “There is an extremely high likelihood of Chromolaena being on other islands.” Bikes move between islands for competitions. The tiny seeds can easily move in the mud on tires or boots.
Finding devil weed early can be tricky, as it resembles other plants. Look for a shrubby plant,
sometimes sprawling, with very-triangular leaves, serrated at the edge. The leaf veins form a distinguishable pitchfork pattern and have a turpentine-like smell when crushed. The stems are covered in short soft hairs and older stems are woody. Single flowers resemble a tangled lilac puffball and flowers grow in clusters. The Seeds have a feathery parachute to carry them on the wind.
You can help prevent the introduction of devil weed and other invasive plants. Always clean hiking and sports equipment, and vehicles and gear before bringing them interisland–even between different areas of the island–particularly if covered in soil or mud. Not only will you help prevent the spread of invasive species, your gear will last longer. If you suspect you may have seen devil weed on Maui, call MISC at 573-6472 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. On other islands call your island-based invasive species committee.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, August 8th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Back in 2001, several East Maui residents started reporting fever, body aches, and rashes. One of the people sickened had just traveled in French Polynesia during a dengue fever outbreak. The Department of Health eventually confirmed 20 cases of dengue fever in East Maui and a crew hired with funds allocated for environmental emergencies went to work removing mosquito habitat. What made this outbreak interesting was that it was spread by the tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, common in Hawai‘i.
“We may be the only place in the world to confirm [that] dengue could be spread by the albopictus mosquito. It’s not an efficient carrier of the disease,” explains Gary Gill, Deputy Director of the Environmental Health Administration with the Hawai‘i Department of Health. “In places where dengue is endemic [regularly occurring], it is the aegypti mosquito that is the carrier.”
The invasive mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is famous for spreading dengue. Neither the mosquito nor dengue is widespread in Hawai‘i. Both periodically appear, but luckily not at the same time. Though conditions are prime as Hawai‘i is a global hub for tourism and commerce..
Dengue outbreaks in Hawai‘i are rare and typically occur when someone travels to an infested area, returns to Hawai‘i and is bitten by a mosquito, as happened in 2001. According to Gill, immediate family members and neighbors are at risk, but the common tiger mosquitoes rarely eat from more than one source. The female mosquito finds a person (or animal), and, given the chance, feeds until her belly is about to burst.
In contrast, Aedes aegypti flit from person to person, taking a blood meal from multiple people and spreading any disease carried by the bloodsuckers. Aedes aegypti is not normally found on O‘ahu. “We have not, up until last year, identified any aegypti since the 1940s,” says Gill.
In January of 2012, a Department of Health entomologist collected a trap containing what was later identified as Aedes aegypti at the Honolulu International Airport. “We’ve found aegypti five times in the last year. Every indication is that this mosquito is either living and breeding at the airport, or it is regularly being reintroduced,” Gill says. Mosquitoes can survive in the cabin, cargo hold, or underbelly of an airplane coming from an infested area. Aedes aegypti are originally from Africa but have spread to tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world including Mexico, Asia, and Australia.
From a public health standpoint having a thriving population of dengue-spreading mosquitoes at the airport is a worst case scenario according to Gill. “A person carrying the virus walks through the airport, and then it spreads to any number of people at the airport who will then take it to wherever they are going. A single population of aegypti could easily spread dengue throughout the state. A dengue-carrier mosquito would be a concern for people who come here as much as for people who live here.” If Aedes aegypti became established throughout Hawai‘i, it would set the stage for a consistent presence of dengue, like does in parts of Central and South America, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
Ongoing surveys for mosquitoes are the best way to ensure early detection of this species. The Department of Health continues to monitor mosquitoes at Honolulu International Airport, but surveys are limited to that airport and don’t include surrounding areas. Funding cuts in 2009 gutted the Department of Health. At one point 40 people worked on O‘ahu on environmental health but now only seven positions remain. Staff cuts throughout the state have left no capacity for mosquito monitoring elsewhere. “What’s at Kahului? We have no idea,” worries Gill.
The Department of Health is working with Hawai‘i’s Departments of Agriculture Transportation to explore options for mosquito surveys at airports and harbors statewide. They are working to reduce mosquito habitat at the airport, removing bromeliads and dark undergrowth and replacing it with less mosquito-friendly landscaping. Gill encourages homeowners to do the same, along with removing or changing water in outside open containers every week. For now it’s our best hope. Unless and until capacity is restored at the Department of Health, early detection of this devastating mosquito is up to the public.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, August 11, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
The tale of Hawaiian land snails began millions of years ago as the first plants and animals began to colonize the islands. Researchers don’t know exactly how snails arrived – perhaps stuck to the feathers of a bird or on a floating tree trunk. But in a remarkable story of evolutionary radiation, some 21 or more of those first species that arrived over the millennia gave rise to more than 750 distinct species. Of those, 99% are endemic to Hawai‘i – found here and nowhere else.
Famously varied in color and shape, Hawaiians called them pūpū kuahiwi, or high-hill snails. Early Europeans collected these jewels of the forest, selling them as lei or to collectors. These snails are still highly valued. Current efforts focus on saving remaining species; high-elevation snail refuges are built to protect them.
Often native snails are found only on one island, or in a single valley or ridge, teetering on extinction because of habitat destruction, shell collection, and invasive species. Adding to the challenges, many Hawaiian land snails reproduce at what is truly a snail’s pace: some species are 3-7 years old at first reproduction and have only 4-7 young per year. They grow slowly—only 0.2 to 0.4 cm a year. Compare this to the invasive giant African snail (Achatina fulica) which reproduce at one year of age, lays up to 600 eggs annually, and grows about 2.5 cm per year.
One species of snail endemic to Maui, Newcomb’s tree snail or Newcombia cumingi, was once found from Lahaina to Makawao, but like most land snails, has become increasingly rare during the latter half of the 20th century. It was last seen in 1938 by Bishop Museum researchers then rediscovered in 1994 by resource managers with the Maui Land and Pineapple Company’s Pu‘u Kukui Watershed Preserve (PKW).
“One hundred years ago they [native snails] were everywhere,” explains Dr. Kenneth Hayes, a University of Hawai‘i researcher who, along many others, has been working to find out how many West Maui snails remain. Today, 50 percent or more are gone, many turned into escargot for invasive predators—rats, Jackson’s chameleons, and the rosy wolf snail. According to Hayes, the remaining native snails have mostly been relegated to the few areas that still contain native forest, but even these refuges won’t last long if we don’t stem the tide of invasive species. Native snails dine primarily on the fungi that grow on native plants. Invasive plants change the way water moves through Hawaiian watersheds altering the ecosystem by changing what plants, animals, fungi or microbes can live there. The snails’ preferred fungi may not grow in altered habitats.
Pomaikai Kaniaupio-Crozier, conservation manager with PKW, is leading efforts to protect the Newcombia. With US Fish and Wildlife Service funding and partner help they are planning an exclosure in the native forest of West Maui to keep hungry predators from munching native snails.
The West Maui “snail refuge” will be modeled after similar exclosures on O‘ahu, where the O‘ahu Army Natural Resources Program has enclosed three areas to keep out rats, chameleons, and even the predatory rosy wolf snail. A 4-foot tall sheet metal fence topped by a curved lip deters rats and chameleons. Predatory snails face sheet metal at an impossible-to-scale 10 degree angle– if they do manage they hit an electric wire. One fence is equipped with an electronic sensing system that alerts managers via text message if debris falls on the fence.
The first step in protecting Newcombia is a population survey. “They are the size of a pinky fingernail and very cryptic,” says Kaniaupio-Crozier. “It’s like finding the needle in the haystack, looking for something that small in 8,600 acres. Up until a couple months ago we were getting pretty demoralized.”
Then they made a remarkable discovery. They found a new population, in totally unexpected habitat. The existing Newcombia population inhabited a wet area with lots of ‘ōhi‘a; the new population was found on ‘ākia, in much drier terrain. “There’s hope there may be another population somewhere else.”
From survey to construction, building the snail refuge will take several years. You can help. PKW is welcoming people interested in habitat restoration, monitoring, even joining in the brainstorming. Contact Kaniaupio-Crozier at email@example.com or by phone, 870-4225. To learn more about the native and non-native land snails of Hawai‘i, contact Ken Hayes, firstname.lastname@example.org, Norine Yeung, email@example.com, or visit the Hawaiian Land Snail Conservation Facebook Page.
As with many conservation projects, the snail exclosure at Pu‘u Kukui involves many agencies and partners: US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Science Foundation, University of Hawai‘i Mānoa, O‘ahu Army Natural Resources Program, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Plant Extinction Prevention Program, and more.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, July 14th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Hō‘ike o Haleakalā Curriculum-35 million years of Hawaiian natural history over 3 days
Where: Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) Office, 820 Pi‘iholo Road, Makawao
COST: $30 workshop cost covers lunch and supplies for classroom use. Check payable to Tri-Isle RC&D, mail to MISC, PO Box 983, Makawao, HI 96768
Earn 3 DOE professional development credits—search for course title on PDE3 site
Portfolio review date: Saturday, November 9, 2013
Learn new ways to teach science using examples from Hawaiian ecosystems. This course will cover the emergence of the Hawaiian Islands, native flora and fauna, and present day invasive species issues. Play with glo-germ, Google Earth, and a fast-paced forest bird card game. Workshop includes two days of hands-on activities and guest scientists with a half day field trip into The Nature Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve.
Registration Deadline: August 1, 2013. Register via this link: Hō‘ike o Haleakalā Curriculum-35 million years of Hawaiian natural history over 3 days
Sometimes, fences bring freedom.
In Hawai‘i, habitat loss and invasive species have left little room for native plants and animals. And feral cats and dogs attack seabirds. Rats and mice steal eggs from endangered birds and snack on the seeds of rare plants. Introduced snails and chameleons have munched rare native tree snails close to oblivion.
At Ka‘ena Point on the northwest tip of O‘ahu, the Department of Land and Natural Resources tried to protect nesting habitat for seabirds. They closed off the area to motor vehicles and began trapping rats and other predators. It helped—Laysan albatross (mōlī) and Wedge-tailed shearwaters (‘ua‘u kani) began nesting among the native plants and in the dunes of this coastal ecosystem.. In 2011 over 3,000 shearwaters chicks hatched; and by 2012, 61 pairs of albatross took turns sitting atop their single egg. Unfortunately, control efforts only reduced the number of predators; it didn’t stop them. In a typical year, 15% of seabird hatchlings were killed. Periodically, stray dogs wandered into the reserve with catastrophic results. In 2006, 113 shearwaters were killed in a single night. The Department of Land and Natural Resources decided to build a fence.
Predator-proof fencing has been used extensively in New Zealand, but has only recently gained favor in Hawai‘i. It offers a promising solution for ongoing struggles like those at Ka‘ena. Rather than ongoing trapping to remove predators, resource managers can create protected “islands” where native plants and animals have a chance to recover.
On Maui, two fenced enclosures are currently being built on the windward side of the West Maui Mountains at Makamaka‘ole. One is for Newell’s shearwaters, or ‘a‘o, and the other is for Hawaiian petrels, or ‘ua‘u. Both species nest in underground burrows and are vulnerable to attack by rodents, mongoose, and feral cats. The fences are designed to keep these hungry creatures out. First Wind, which built Kaheawa wind farm, is creating the four-acre enclosures as part of their seabird mitigation program to address impacts caused by the towers.
The Makamaka‘ole fences will be similar to the one at Ka‘ena. The mesh on these predator-proof fences is so small that even two-day old mice can’t crawl through. The fence will be topped with a metal hood to keep any animals from climbing over, and a skirt extends along the base to keep animals from burrowing under.
Once the first enclosure at Makamaka‘ole is complete, invasive animals will be removed and sound systems will be installed that broadcast seabird calls to attract prospecting birds. If they land to investigate, they may find home in one of the 50 artificial burrows. Erica Thoele, supervisor of habitat conservation plan compliance with First Wind, says, “Hopefully they’ll think this is a safe place and build a nest,” says Thoele. Crews will trap for predators along a 100 yard perimeter outside the fence in case any seabirds decide to nest nearby. Ongoing monitoring will help evaluate whether seabirds are using the artificial burrows or digging their own nests in the enclosure.
Monitoring at Ka‘ena Point has shown promising results. The 700 yard fence was completed in March 2011 and protects 59 acres of coastline from predators. There have been dramatic increases in seabird productivity now that the rats have been removed- a 25% increase in the number of albatross nesting at Ka‘ena, and a doubling of the number of Wedge-tailed shearwater chicks fledging. Native plants are also showing signs of recovering with more abundant fruits, seeds and seedlings than had been observed prior to removing predators. The fences may keep the hungry critters out, but well-behaved humans are still welcome at Ka‘ena. Double-door gates along the fence allow access to the reserve.
Fencing projects elsewhere in the state are in the works. The Oahu Army Natural Resources Program built “snail” fences to protect rare native snails from rats, mice, Jackson’s chameleons, and the invasive rosy wolf snail. A new fence will be built next year at Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge to enclose nearly eight acres of habitat for six different species of breeding seabirds. Plans are in process for a fence on Lāna‘ihale to protect ‘ua‘u nesting habitat. Learn more about predator proof fencing at Ka‘ena by visiting the website hawaii.gov/dlnr/chair/pio/nr/2011/NR10-225.pdf
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, June 9th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Humans have always relied on plants for medicine and many modern remedies are still derived from plants.
The active ingredient in aspirin, salicylic acid, is now synthesized in a lab but used to be obtained from the bark of willows, or plants in the genus Salix. Digitalis, a drug for heart conditions, is one of a group of medicines extracted from the foxglove plant, Digitalis purpurea. An Alzheimer’s treatment, galantamine, is either produced in the lab or extracted from daffodils. Present-day herbalists harvest or grow plants to treat everything from acne to weight loss.
But while they may have health benefits for people, some medicinal plants may sicken our environment. Mullein, notable for its use as a respiratory aid and a remedy for skin problems, is one example. Common mullein, or Verbascum thapsus, thrives on bare soil at mid to high elevations—think the painted landscape of Haleakalā crater. It can monopolize the habitat of native plants, such as the iconic silversword. Mullein is not established on Maui, but the cinder slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Hawai‘i Island are now covered with this highly invasive plant.
Blessed milk thistle, or Silybum marianum, is renowned to herbalists for protecting the liver from poisons. This thorny thistle is equally famous for its invasiveness. Darwin commented on the impacts of this European native as he rode through the pastures of Argentina: “When the thistles are full-grown, the great beds are impenetrable…” He continued to describe the murderous robbers who hid amongst the thistles. Blessed milk thistle has been found in a Makawao pasture, and is on track for removal. At one time this plant was in cultivation on Maui for its medicinal properties. Fortunately that is no longer the case.
There is much to be learned from studying plants. The practices of herbalism in naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, or lā‘au lapa‘au, Hawaiian plant medicine, all stem from living close to nature. Knowing when to harvest plants and what parts to use is an impressive skill. So too is knowing which plants to grow and where.
Hawai‘i is home to a diversity of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, some with healing properties. When non-native, invasive species become established, they disrupt the interdependent relationships that characterize healthy, intact native ecosystems. Growing medicinal plants can be a way to revive and retain ancient types of knowledge. It can be an avenue to connect with your natural surroundings. And, with a little forethought, it can be done in balance with the environment.
If you are going to grow your own medicinal plants, choose species that are not invasive or otherwise harmful. The common artichoke, for example, has the same liver-supporting compounds as blessed milk thistle, without the invasive characteristics.
How can you determine whether a plant is problematic? The Hawai‘i Pacific Weed Risk Assessment is a screening tool that evaluates plant species’ biological characteristics and their potential for becoming invasive. Check it out at www.plantpono.org.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, May 12th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Tangerines, oranges, lemons, limes, pummelo and grapefruit— sharing a box of citrus just picked from the backyard is part of life in Hawai‘i, much as leaving your slippers outside the front door.
But imagine walking outside to find your trees covered in bitter, misshapen fruit: no more fresh lemons, tangerines, or oranges from your yard. Backyard gardeners and commercial growers across the mainland are scrambling to protect their citrus in the face of one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world, a disease perched on Hawai‘i’s doorstep.
Citrus greening disease, also known as huanglongbing or yellow dragon disease, originated in Asia. It was first detected in the United States in Florida in August of 2005. By July of 2008 it had spread across the state. It has since sprung up in backyards and farms throughout the Southern United States. Once infected, plants don’t recover and thousands of trees throughout the Southeast have died. The impacts to the citrus industry in Florida have been profound. California citrus growers are bracing themselves after the disease popped up in a Los Angeles suburb last summer.
A tiny, gnat-sized insect, the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), is responsible for spreading citrus greening disease. These psyllids feed on the stems and leaves of citrus and must feed on an infected tree to spread the bacterial disease. Currently, citrus greening is not present in Hawai‘i, but we do have sizeable populations of non-native Asian psyllid. Across the mainland the trend has been for the arrival of the psyllid to be followed by the disease.
The Asian citrus psyllid was first detected on the Big Island in 2006. Monica Tauyan is a plant pest
control technician with the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture. She is part of a team that regularly surveys citrus across the state for citrus greening. Tauyan has no problem finding the Asian psyllid living on a variety of different citrus. “The psyllid causes leaf curl,” she says, “but the major concern is the disease.” If citrus greening arrives, the psyllids will carry the disease from tree to tree. Tauyan conducts surveys on Maui several times a year, and on Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i annually. Her efforts have been focused on farms, nurseries, and residences, and to date, have come up empty handed.
She’s looking for blotchy mottling on the leaves in an asymmetric pattern, “It’s the classic symptom.” according to Tauyan. When she finds this, or other indicators—such as yellowing leaves or misshapen, bitter fruit that don’t ripen—she collects samples and sends them to the University of Hawai‘i for testing. “We’ve been doing surveys since 2009. So far we’ve had no positives.”
If citrus greening makes it to Hawai‘i, Tauyan thinks it will likely arrive in the form of an infected psyllid. Psyllids carry the disease for life. A miniscule psyllid slipping undetected into Hawai‘i could spell big trouble for our citrus and inspectors with the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture are on the lookout.
You can help. First, don’t bring citrus plant material into Hawai‘i from the mainland or other parts of the world without first checking with the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture. Secondly, regularly check your citrus. If the leaves are blotchy and mottled unevenly, or the fruit is misshapen and not ripening correctly your citrus could be infected. Confirming the diagnosis requires lab work, as there are also mineral deficiencies that resemble a greening infection. Contact Tauyan at the Department of Agriculture on O‘ahu 808-973-9528 if you are concerned about your citrus plants, or collect a sample yourself and submit it to the local extension office of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources in Kahului or Ho‘olehua on Moloka‘i. Submission guidelines are online at www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/dnn/yellowdragon/SampleSubmission.aspx. Learn more about the disease and find an app for reporting possible cases of citrus greening at www.saveourcitrus.org
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, April 14th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Proliferations of the spiny creatures can destroy 90 percent of a reef, as past outbreaks in Saipan, the Marshall Islands, and Guam have shown. In situations where the reef is stressed, an abundance of coral-eating starfish can trigger a cascade of changes. First the corals go, replaced by algal overgrowth. The resulting shift in fish populations can take years to recover. In Hawai‘i and Australia, concerns about crown-of-thorns outbreaks have focused on the reduced aesthetic value of the reef, and consequently, a decline in tourism. For some communities the reef is the icebox, and crown-of-thorns outbreaks can leave it empty.
But outbreaks rarely occur in Hawai‘i. Many crown-of-thorns starfish larvae die off, while adults are eaten by triton’s trumpet snails, stripebelly pufferfish, and harlequin shrimp. A healthy reef can support small numbers of prickly stars, and it’s probable that they benefit the reef in some way. According to Russell Sparks, aquatic biologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources, “In Hawai‘i, crown-of-thorns starfish feed on fast-growing, quick-to-settle corals, such as rice and cauliflower coral. These corals can overrun other species like lobe and finger coral, so a periodic bloom of crown-of-thorns could be an important way for reefs to maintain coral diversity.”
In 2004, marine biologists observed a crown-of-thorns outbreak in ʻĀhihi Kīna‘u. “Although the coral cover impacts were dramatic, the recovery seems to be well on its way,“ says Sparks. “It may increase overall coral diversity, which should make the reef more resilient to future disturbances.”
Until recently scientists hypothesized that crown-of-thorns outbreaks in remote locations such as Hawai‘i, Guam, and French Polynesia resulted from an influx of larvae from elsewhere in the Pacific. In Australia, massive starfish outbreaks spread south along the reef in waves, seeded from larvae upstream. But new research indicates that Hawaiian blooms occur within the native population. A team of scientists from the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa looked at the genetics of crown-of-thorns starfish and found that these supposed “invaders” were actually locals—they weren’t some rogue population from across the Pacific. What does this mean?
Crown-of-thorns outbreaks are not fully understood. The species may be acting invasively because of human interference. Some biologists theorize that heavy rainfall and coastal nutrient runoff contribute to a higher than normal survival rate for larvae, resulting in a larger number of adults. Over-harvesting of the species’ natural predators could be another potential trigger. Researcher Dr. Rob Toonen recommends that marine wildlife managers “seriously consider the role that environmental conditions and local nutrient inputs play in driving crown-of-thorns outbreaks.”
You can help scientists learn more. The citizen-monitoring project Eyes of the Reef relies on reports from regular reef users to monitor reef health. Crown-of-thorns sea stars are one species of focus. Early detection of outbreaks is critical to protecting the reef. Report any occurrence of 20 or more crown-of-thorns starfish through the Eyes of the Reef monitoring project at reefcheckhawaii.org/eyesofthereef.html
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, March 10th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.
Darryl “Kanamu” Tau‘a was an East Maui tour bus driver who lost his job during the decline in tourism post September 11, 2001. Imi Nelson, a recent Hāna High graduate, was looking for work that would keep him close to his family. That fall, in response to the economic downturn, the Hawai‘i state legislature appropriated $1.5 million to create an emergency environmental workforce that put 450 people back to work. Kanamu got a temporary job controlling miconia, a South American tree invading the East Maui watershed. Imi joined the dengue fever response crew, helping to eliminate the environmental conditions that foster disease-spreading mosquitoes. Later, when the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) had openings on its Hāna miconia control crew, both Kanamu and Imi had the necessary field experience. They landed permanent jobs—hard to come by in rural Hāna.
Conservation means boots on the ground and fingers on the keyboard. In Hawai‘i, it means jobs for thousands of people throughout the state, from Hāna to Honolulu, Hilo to Hanalei. Local suppliers and contractors provide goods and services for conservation projects, further multiplying the benefits of dollars spent. Natural resource work in Hawai‘i brings an estimated $456.6 million to the economy as wages, goods, and services, according to a report on the Green Industry from the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization. Funding comes from a variety of federal, state, county, and private sources, with the bulk spent employing an estimated 3,275 people working in the field or office. In addition to wages, these jobs as technicians, researchers, hunters, construction workers, data managers, grant writers and accountants, educators, and managers often provide extensive training and skill-set development opportunities.
University research highlights other economic benefits of conservation work, which protects our water supply, food, beaches and reefs, and makes Hawai‘i a great place to live and visit. Natural resource management safeguards more than just native birds, plants, and insects. Almost all of the water Maui County uses is captured from rainfall, and a healthy watershed is key to maintaining adequate and safe water supplies. Economists estimate that if the Ko‘olau watershed on O‘ahu was rendered unusable and no longer contributing to the aquifer, the loss would be between $4.57 and $8.52 million.
Conservation jobs have been somewhat insulated from the turmoil of employment in the tourism sector. Despite a decline in
Nelson and Tau‘a continue to live in a rural community, in part because they have jobs in conservation and have learned skills during their employment. Investments spent protecting our environment translate into jobs today and healthy resources for future generations. To find out more about green industry in Hawai‘i check out the Green Growth Report by the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization online at www.uhero.hawaii.edu.
By Lissa Fox Strohecker. Originally published in the Maui News, Feburary 10th, 2013 as part of the Kia‘i Moku Column from the Maui Invasive Species Committee.