Draft environmental assessment released for using modified mosquitoes to save native birds on Kauaʻi
Today, the draft environmental assessment was made public for the use of Wolbachia-based incompatible male mosquitoes on Kauaʻi to stop the spread of avian malaria that is decimating native forest bird populations.
The public has 31 days — from June 23 until July 24 — to comment on the draft, which was released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Hawaiʻi’s forest birds are facing an extinction crisis, with avian malaria a major factor. It is transmitted by non-native mosquitoes and just a single bite from an infected mosquito can be deadly.
Of Kauaʻi’s 16 native honeycreepers, 10 have gone extinct and three are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered.
In October 2022, the U.S. Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources proposed the Incompatible Insect Technique (IIT) to reduce mosquito populations within approximately 59,204 acres of forest reserves, state parks and private lands in the Kōkeʻe and Alakaʻi areas of Kauaʻi.
This project is intended to suppress mosquitoes known to transmit diseases to native forest birds in critical higher-elevation native forest habitat.
“Our field teams are reporting that ‘akikiki have almost disappeared from their habitats in the Alaka‘i Plateau,” said David Smith, administrator of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “They are working very hard to collect eggs and adult birds this field season, but between avian malaria and predation from rats, they are not having much success and believe the end is near for this honeycreeper species in the wild.”
The use of Wolbachia as an IIT to control disease carrying mosquitoes has been successfully implemented in more than 10 countries throughout the world, according to Earl Campbell, project leader for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.
“Wolbachia is a bacterium that occurs naturally in 65% of insects that does not employ genetic engineering and does not involve or result in either mosquitoes or bacteria being genetically modified organisms,” he said.
The document and more information is available here. Hard copies also are available for review at the Hawaiʻi Document Center and the Waimea, Līhuʻe and Princeville branches of the Hawaiʻi State Public Library.
A public meeting will be held on July 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Kauaʻi Philippine Cultural Center, 4475f Nuhou St. in Līhuʻe.
Comments can be submitted in multiple ways:
- Online via the input form at the webpage: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dofaw/comment
- Via email to [email protected]
- Via mail, postmarked by July 24, 2023, to: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Attn: Mosquito Control Project, 1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 325, Honolulu, HI 96813
- In writing at the public meeting.
In order to be considered, comments must be received on or before July 24. All comments and materials received will become part of the public record associated with this action.
You can learn more about Hawai‘i’s native honeycreeper species and the interagency efforts underway to save them from imminent extinction by visiting the “Birds, Not Mosquitoes” website.