Estimated potential economic impact to Hawaii: $4.6 billion to $8.5
-The Nature Conservancy
of the Nature Conservancy
Native to South
and Central America, Miconia grows to more than 40 feet tall and
has broad, purple-colored leaves, which block out the sun to anything
below. This Jurassic-era-looking plant is both beautiful and bizarre,
which made it a horticulturalist's delight. It was introduced to
a botanical garden in Tahiti in 1937, and quickly spread into the
surrounding rain forest. By the 1980s, Miconia, also known as "the
green cancer," had swallowed up 60 percent of the Island's forest,
threatening one-quarter of its indigenous plants and wildlife.
a shallow root system, so the trees are easily knocked down by high
winds, which leads to devastating cases of erosion. In addition,
adult plants can disperse more than 3 million seeds annually. The
seeds can lay dormant for as long as three years.
was imported into Hawaii in 1960 and soon established itself in
the forests near Hana and Wailuku on Maui and west of Hilo and all
along the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island. Smaller populations were
found in Wailua on Kauai and in Manoa, Nuuanu and Kalihi valleys
on Oahu. Miconia is the priority plant pest for Invasive Species
Committees on Maui, the Big Island, Kauai and Oahu.
In 1999, University
of Hawaii researchers estimated that, if the Koolau Mountains forest,
Oahu's primary source of water, were deforested, the value of the
lost recharge to the aquifers would be between $4.6 billion and
Eric Co emerges from the waters off of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach
Resort & Spa cradling a large "tumbleweed" of Gracilaria salicornia algae.
The seaweed, also known as gorilla ogo, is dark, dense and, from a distance,
resembles a large, dirty sponge or a disembodied extraterrestrial brain.
It is as sinister as it looks and, appropriately enough, the result of
a failed science experiment.
In the 1970s, gorilla ogo was believed to be a good source of agar, a
seaweed extract used as a solidifying agent in everything from ice cream
to eye cream, and it was intentionally released in the waters off of Waikiki
and Kaneohe Bay as well as off several beaches in Molokai. Researchers
were wrong, and the seaweed, a relative of native limu, was left to fend
for itself. It did very well.
In the decades that followed, the gorilla ogo has come to dominate Oahu's
south shore, smothering the reefs from Diamond Head to Ala Moana Beach
Park, where it makes up 11 percent to 60 percent of the bottom cover.
Besides its tumbleweed form, the algae also grow into thick mats, resembling
very ugly shag carpeting, which cover large swatches of the reef. Although
plentiful, gorilla ogo is largely unknown to most Islanders. That is until
a storm or a large swell hits the South Shore and the seaweed blankets
its beaches, creating a thick, matted, stinking mess.
"Having a whole bunch of the stuff on your reef really won't change what
the ocean looks like when you wake up to a beautiful Hawaiian sunrise,"
says Co, marine program coordinator for the Nature Conservancy. "That
is, until you have tons of stinky algae wash up on shore."
According to Co, a putrid day at the beach is the least worrisome of
gorilla algae's harmful environmental impacts. The seaweed, which doesn't
support or benefit any other marine life, kills coral. While Waikiki's
reefs are hardly renowned for their snorkeling opportunities, they do
support an intricate web of marine life. Maybe more importantly, the reefs
also protect an already dwindling Waikiki Beach from erosion. The alien
seaweed could literally swallow up the world's most famous beach.
"Coral reefs are very dynamic and complex and support levels upon levels
of life. They support our fishing industry, recreation and tourism and
our cultural heritage," says Co. "If we allow this invasive species to
grow unchecked, we will have severe economic losses, both in the short
term and in the long term."
Gorilla ogo and a large handful of other alien seaweeds are the latest
and quietest of the state's invasive invaders, which threaten environment,
economy and public health. They strike from mauka (toward the mountains)
to makai (toward the ocean).
|THE WEED THAT
ATE WAIKIKI: The Nature Conservancy's Eric Co holds a tumbleweed of
Gracilaria salicornia algae. Also known as gorilla ogo, the introduced
seaweed has come to dominate the South Shore. Photo:
The threat of invasive species is hardly unique to Hawaii. According
to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the total costs attributable
to invasive species in the United States amount to approximately $137
billion each year. The cost to U.S. agriculture alone is about $72.7 billion.
Overseas, the problem is much the same. In a 1992 study by the U.S. Invasive
Species Advisory Committee, worldwide losses to agriculture were estimated
at $55 billion to nearly $248 billion annually.
However, Hawaii is unquestionably the hardest hit state in the union.
The Islands are home to a third of all the birds and plants on the federal
Endangered Species List. Nearly two-thirds of all the plants and birds
nationwide that have become extinct once belonged to Hawaii.
Estimated potential economic impact to Hawaii: $15.5 million to
-The Nature Conservancy
of the Nature Conservancy
One of the few
pests that is dangerous in both urban and agricultural settings,
as well as in natural habitats, the red imported fire ant (RIFA)
seems like a 1950s horror-movie monster. The aggressive ant feeds
on fruits, seeds, roots and tubers and damages electrical, irrigation
and other mechanical equipment. Inflicting a painful sting, it also
attacks animals of all kinds, injuring and killing wildlife, livestock
into Alabama from Brazil in the late 1920s, the RIFA lay dormant
for several decades until the 1950s, when it began to spread throughout
the South, sometimes as fast as 100 miles in a year. Today, 11 Southeastern
states are infested with the RIFA. In October 1998, California agricultural
officials found colonies of RIFA in Orange and Riverside counties.
By the size and extent of the infestations, officials estimated
that RIFA had been in the area for several years.
While the agricultural
damages have been considerable, RIFA has had its greatest impact
in the urban setting. In a 1998 study, Texas A&M University researchers
found that RIFA damages and control efforts have cost the Texas
metropolitan areas $581 million. In a 2000 study, agricultural costs
were estimated at $90 million.
In the fall
of 2003, financially strapped California announced that it was stopping
eradication efforts, which cost the state $40 million. RIFA control
and eradication efforts are now the responsibility of the individual
"I don't have
any faith in various counties' ability to prevent the ants from
spreading throughout the rest of the state," says Christy Martin,
public information officer for the Coordinating Group on Alien Species,
an interagency invasive pest working group. "It's no longer a matter
of if, but when, RIFA arrives in Hawaii."
Economically, the Islands suffer hundreds of millions of dollars in damages
from introduced pests and diseases annually. For instance, an estimated
$300 million is lost in potential fruit exports, thanks to the oriental
fruit fly and the melon fly. In addition, Islanders annually spend approximately
$150 million to control and repair the damage caused by the Formosan ground
termite. The Nature Conservancy also estimates that costs associated with
potential and present invaders, including the brown tree snake, dengue
fever, miconia and the red imported fire ant, could top $180 million a
year. Harder to quantify would be the profound lifestyle and economic
changes that Islanders and visitors alike would have to endure if these
species were to become established.
"The fact that some of the more destructive invasives have yet to establish
themselves in Hawaii is largely due to luck," says Christy Martin, public
information officer of the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS),
an interagency invasive pest working group. "The amount of funding for
agricultural inspections has stayed the same or gone down, while the amount
of air and sea traffic has increased exponentially. Basically, we've been
playing a game of Russian roulette, and now we've got more bullets in
The Price of Being Paradise
The most remote landmass in the world, Hawaii was originally colonized
by several hundred species of plants, insects, birds and other organisms
that arrived via ocean and air currents. Surrounded by a 2,500-mile-wide
moat, this ecofortress was spared the grazers, the predators and the pathogens
that were important to the evolution of the continents, and these original
immigrants evolved into several thousands of species, more than 90 percent
of which are endemic to Hawaii.
The Polynesians intentionally introduced about 30 kinds of plants for
cultivation, including the emblematic sugarcane plant and coconut tree.
They also brought pigs and chickens as well as stowaways, such as rats,
lizards and several insects. The rate of species becoming established
in the Islands thus changed from the natural rate of one new species every
50,000 years, to three or four new species every 100 years.
According to a 1994 study by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment,
about five new plant species per year became established in Hawaii during
the 20th century. For the 50-year period from 1937 to 1987, the Islands
received an average of 18 new insects and other species annually-more
than a million times the natural rate and almost twice the number absorbed
each year by all of North America. This astronomical rate has recently
been re-examined after a 2001 pest-risk assessment at Maui's Kahului Airport
(see sidebar below) intercepted an unusually high number of insects. Today,
Hawaii may have as many as one new insect arriving each day.
"How bad do things have to get before we tighten things up?" asks Lloyd
Loope, research scientist with the U.S. Geological Service, who specializes
in invasive species. "When miconia takes over our forests, red imported
fire ants have made it impossible for our children to play outside and
West Nile virus has killed all the birds? If we don't do something now,
when will we do it?"
For a little more than a decade, wildlife and conservation officials
have been sounding the alarm in a series of increasingly compelling public
information campaigns, which warn against the accidental or purposeful
importation of such invasive species as the brown tree snake, the red
imported fire ant and the biting sand fly, among others. However, while
it has elevated the name recognition of several of these species, the
campaigns haven't won the hearts and minds of the general public. The
longer the brown tree snake isn't discovered slithering through a Hawaiian
rain forest, the further it slides from the public consciousness.
|WEED BE GONE:
Kim Burnett and other Oahu Invasive Species Committee volunteers clear
out a stand of manuka, or New Zealand tea tree. The bush was intentionally
planted in the mountains above Honolulu in an effort to reforest the
Island's watershed areas. Instead, the fast-growing manuka has spread
wildly, pushing out native vegetation. Photo: Ronen
However, the tide may be changing. Over the past several years, Hawaii
has experienced a wave of almost biblical plagues that have sickened,
tormented and grossed out Islanders and visitors across the state. In
the fall of 2001, an outbreak of dengue fever in rural Nahiku on Maui's
east side paralyzed the Island and put the rest of the state on edge.
Since the late 1990s, populations of the vociferous coqui frog (see sidebar
on pg. 25) have been keeping bleary-eyed homeowners and visitors on the
Big Island, Maui, Oahu and Kauai awake at night. Finally, in the fall
of 2002, Salvinia molesta, an aquatic plant widely regarded as the worst
invasive weed in the world, engulfed Central Oahu's Lake Wilson in a blanket
of green. It was a graphic and dramatic example of the ferocity of an
unchecked invasive species.
An economic impact has yet to be estimated
Photo courtesy of the Nature Conservancy
The frog, a
native of Puerto Rico, is one of the state's newest invaders, most
likely arriving in a shipment of nursery plants from the island
in 1992. However, the recent malahini has quickly made a name for
itself. The quarter-size frog has a million-dollar voice, able to
blast out a call that ranges from 70 to 90 decibels (about the sound
level of a lawnmower).
The Big Island
has the largest infestation, with more than 400 populations, followed
by Maui. Oahu and Kauai also have naturalized communities. Because
they do not have a tadpole stage, and, therefore, don't need standing
water to reproduce, the frogs thrive in a wide spectrum of environments.
Coqui populations have been found at sea level and as high as 4,000
feet in Volcano on the Big Island.
While its voice,
which deprives residents and tourists of sleep (and is driving down
property values), has been garnering most media attention, the frog's
voracious appetite is the main concern for conservationists. In
Puerto Rico, the coqui reaches maximum densities of 8,000 animals
per acre. In Hawaii, where there are few predators, researchers
have documented as many as 10,000 per acre. That many frogs clearing
the forest of insects can greatly impact wildlife, especially native
birds, which are largely insectivores. In addition, the huge number
of frogs will provide an artificial food source for rats and mongoose,
elevating their populations. Moreover, the coqui is ideal prey for
the brown tree snake.
Luckily, the latest plagues, while disturbing and newsworthy, are relatively
mild in comparison to the misery that potential invaders can bring.
Last summer, Peter Young, chairperson for the state's Board of Land and
Natural Resources, attended a U.S. Coral Task Force meeting in Guam and
saw the effect of a real plague. Visiting the island for the first time,
Young ditched part of the meeting to tour the Guam International Airport
with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services official. Young was shown the perimeter
fence as well as snake traps, which are stationed 30 to 50 feet apart.
That day, Young didn't see a single snake, which is nocturnal, in one
of the traps.
However, that night his guide found a snake for him, very quickly. "I
was staying at the Hilton, which was right in an urban area of Guam,"
says Young, who had earlier that year led the interagency effort to clean
up Lake Wilson. "We walked through the parking lot, across the lawn and
into scrub land with haole koa, a landscape that you see all the time
in Hawaii. Just walking along that perimeter with a flashlight, we found
a snake in 20 minutes."
According to Young (whose background is in real estate, not biology)
it dawned on him then that if he could find a snake, just steps from his
hotel, it would be easy for anyone to purposefully or accidentally carry
a snake on an airplane.
Hawaii was in serious danger.
"I saw the coqui frogs and spoke to people who were in tears because
the noise was deafening," says Young, a longtime Big Island resident and
former deputy managing director for Hawaii County. "I've seen fountain
grass growing out of control on ranch land, a big fire hazard. I've learned
that invasive species crosses over many lines. They are environmental,
economic and social problems. Fighting invasive species is the Department
of Land and Natural Resources' No. 1 priority."
In May 2003, Gov. Linda Lingle signed a bill into law that established
the Hawaii Invasive Species Council (HISC), a department head-level working
group, whose priority is to provide policy-level direction and planning
for combating harmful invasive species infestations throughout the state.
Besides the DLNR, and the departments of Agriculture, Transportation,
Health, the council also includes the heads of the departments of Business
Economic Development and Tourism, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Defense,
Hawaiian Home Lands and the University of Hawaii. Also included were the
four mayors and various private and federal partners.
In her State of the State speech in January, Lingle named invasive species
as one of the five priorities of her administration, and she announced
that she would ask for $5 million from the Legislature for the effort.
According to Young, the $5 million will be matched by federal and private
funds over the course of four years. Thirty-five percent of the money
will go to prevention, 30 percent will address response and control, 20
percent will fund research and development and 10 percent will be applied
toward new technologies. The remaining 5 percent will go toward education
Estimated nationwide cost of summer 2003 outbreak: $139 million
-Centers for Disease Control
of the Centers for Disease Control
and potentially fatal, West Nile virus (WNV) is the most serious
public health and economic threat to the Islands in recent memory.
The mosquito-borne virus, which primarily affects birds, has been
floating around Africa and Europe for thousands of years. However,
in the early 1990s, the virus mutated into its more virulent strain
and spread quickly throughout Russia, Eastern Europe, North Africa
and the Middle East. In 1999, WNV made its way from Israel to New
York City. Over the course of a couple of summers, it spread across
the country, killing birds, horses and people along the way. According
to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2001, there were 66
cases of WNV in 10 states resulting in nine fatalities. In 2002,
WNV activity spread to 44 states, with 4,156 human cases and 284
deaths. In 2003, 7,386 people were diagnosed with WNV, of whom 155
died. CDC officials estimate that the 2003 cases cost an estimated
$139 million in hospitalization, doctor's bills and such things
as lost wages, need for extra child-care and transportation.
the hardest hit state. The virus, which is not transmitted from
person to person, was first detected in the fall of 2002, resulting
in just 13 nonfatal human cases. The following summer, WNV swept
through the state in just two weeks. On Aug. 18, Colorado health
officials estimated that 11,000 people were infected with the virus.
By Aug. 30, that number exploded to 35,000. By the summer's end,
2,745 Coloradoans complained of WNV symptoms, of whom 52 died. Almost
all the deceased were elderly. The youngest victim was 53 years
Most WNV infected
people have no symptoms. About one in 80 infected will develop mild
symptoms that include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and
swollen lymph glands. Less than 1 percent of infected people develop
more severe illnesses such as meningitis and encephalitis. There
is no specific treatment for WNV infection and no vaccine to prevent
If WNV were
to establish itself in Hawaii's bird population, the environmental,
social and economic costs would likely outstrip those suffered by
other infected states. Because it is a mosquito-borne disease, WNV
is suppressed during the cold winter months on the Mainland. Hawaii
wouldn't enjoy such a reprieve. Also, because the Islands' birds
are exposed to far fewer diseases than those on the Mainland, WNV
would likely be deadlier to the population, and it would probably
spread faster than it has on the continent.
"If it gets
here and into the bird population, you will not be able to get rid
of this," says Jeff Burgett, invasive species biologist at the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service. "It won't die out unless every bird in
the state is removed and that's not going to happen."
Burgett, the virus would be far more difficult to battle than dengue
fever, which plagued the Islands several summers ago, because WNV
is primarily a bird disease. Dengue, on the other hand, is primarily
a monkey disease, which affects humans. Since there are no monkeys
in Hawaii, it was relatively easy for local health officials to
isolate dengue and wipe it out.
of dengue wasn't serious," says Burgett. "It may have made people
feel like they wanted to die, but West Nile can kill you. How many
times are you bitten by a mosquito in a week? Can you imagine every
one of those instances being a potentially fatal occurrence?"
The state's self-imposed hiring freeze might prevent the officials from
bringing on additional agricultural inspectors. But Neil Reimer, manager
for the plant quarantine branch of the state Department of Agriculture,
says that his staff of 50 inspectors statewide would likely be supplemented
by the addition of aides, who would do the manual labor involved in the
job, freeing up the inspectors to make examinations.
According to Reimer, inspection-staffing levels have remained static
for more than 10 years and have fallen by 10 positions from levels 20
years ago. As a result, inspectors routinely work seven days a week, often
a single shift involves clocking in on Friday morning and going home Sunday
night. "I'm not sure that our 60 inspectors were even appropriate for
the job 20 years ago," says Reimer. "I do know that we are unable to do
certain things that we should be doing. For instance, interisland inspections
are not being done to the extent that they should be. As a result, things
get spread throughout the Islands, such as coqui frog."
"We will be dealing with both terrestrial and marine invasive species,"
says Young. "The effort will likely call for an increased agricultural
inspection capability for the Department of Agriculture. I'm not sure
if it will come through the department itself or an expansion of a federal
program. However, the result will be the same, inspection capabilities
will be improved."
Besides much needed funding, HISC finally could give the fight against
invasive species a little political muscle. Up until now, coordinating
the land battle against alien species has been largely the job of a loosely
connected network of Invasive Species Committees, made up of middle managers
from various state and federal agencies, paid staff and legions of volunteers.
The committees target a select list of species for control and are funded
by a variety of state, federal and private grants and programs that are
"Even if it happens, I don't know how effective it will be, but, nevertheless,
I'm mildly optimistic," says Loope, a member of the Maui Invasive Species
Committee. "There is so much interest at the grassroots level, but up
till now, the highest levels of government have been dismissive. Now things
are looking much better."
Young says that some lessons for the war against invasives can be gleaned
from the successful cleanup of Lake Wilson, which involved the coordination
of more than 30 different entities and 300 volunteers. However, Young
admits that the effort against salvinia, which was conducted in the controlled
confines of a man-made, enclosed lake, was relatively easy compared to
fighting invasives in the wild.
"I'll borrow whatever good idea is out there," says Young. "What we are
going to do will be significantly different from the way things are done
now. We want to work together, we need to work together and let's just
do it. It's as simple as that."
The 42-Ton Gorilla
Back at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa, The Nature Conservancy's
Co lays down his tumbleweed of gorilla ogo and measures it with a grid
made of PVC piping and string. Co is surveying the algae's population
off of the beach to ascertain the effectiveness of a control campaign
that started in January of this year. With the cooperation of more than
a dozen different public and private partners and hundreds of volunteers,
Co and company have removed more than 42 tons of alien algae over the
course of three separate efforts.
During the first volunteer alien algae effort at the Hilton, divers carefully
removed the gorilla ogo from the reef and snorkelers packed it into burlap
bags, which were carried via chain gang from the water's edge to a waiting
dump truck. Hilton officials gave the workers full access to the beach,
burlap bags were donated by the Hawaii Coffee Company, Alliance Trucking
donated the use of a truck, Teddy's Bigger Burgers helped out with lunch
and the DLNR assisted with permitting. Co anticipated maybe 100 volunteers.
He got 200.
"The most amazing thing is that we got a lot of our guests getting in
the line and volunteering to help. Some even opened up their wallets and
gave money to buy lunch for the volunteers," says George Hayward, public
relations manager for the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa. "The environment
is important to us. It drives the state and the tourism industry. Our
guests realize that, too."
It's too early to tell exactly how effective the group's efforts have
been, but an initial examination by divers has found that the population
has been significantly reduced. However, more importantly, Co is encouraged
by a new awareness in the general public that may be growing as fast as
"This is a problem that has only just begun to reach the forefront of
our awareness. We're hoping that this effort can serve as an example for
the other resorts down the beach," says Co. "We've found that people really
want to help. It's not that they don't care, it's that they just don't
Estimated potential economic impact to Hawaii: $29 million to $405
-The Nature Conservancy
of the Nature Conservancy
venomous and with most specimens measuring between three and four
feet long, the brown tree snake pales in comparison to the fearsome
serpents seen on most wildlife documentaries. However, the snake's
survivability, reproductive success and voracious appetite are downright
scary: One snake made the journey from Guam to Corpus Christi, Texas,
inside of a washing machine. The trek took six months and the snake,
without food or water, arrived very much alive, and pissed off.
Once on the
ground, the snake's chances of survival are high. Nocturnal and
carry-on-size, it is hard to detect. It also isn't a picky eater,
easily adapting to available lizard, bird and mammal prey. In addition,
once mated, females can store sperm for years.
The brown tree
snake is an animal perfectly engineered for globalization.
Native to the
Solomon Islands, Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, the brown
tree snake's most famous new home is Guam, where it likely arrived
via military transports, which were moving men and materiel from
the South Pacific following World War II. Several decades later,
the snake has single handedly decimated the island's wildlife, exterminating
12 native bird species, six lizard species and two of three bat
While its venom
is not a threat to healthy adults, it can cause severe sickness
in infants, the elderly and the infirm. A noted climber, the snake
is frequently found on power and telephone lines. Since 1978, it
has caused more than 1,200 power outages on the island.
At their height
in the '80s, snake densities on Guam reached 40 specimens per acre,
some of the highest densities ever recorded. Today, populations
are approximately eight to 20 snakes per acre. The drop is attributed
to a dwindling food supply. The snake is literally eating itself
out of house and home.
The brown tree
snake has turned up in Hawaii at least seven times, the latest in
1994, when it was found in a warehouse at Schofield Barracks. It
was the first snake captured in three years and the only one that
wasn't found in or around an airplane.
Guam airport officials found a brown tree snake in a bottle, an
apparent attempt to smuggle the reptile off the island. At the time,
flights bound for Tokyo and Honolulu were checking in.
High air traffic, low staffing levels and several unique ecological
characteristics make Kahului Airport an insect hub
BLITZ: Intensive inspections, or "blitzes," like this one were
performed at Kahului Airport over the course of nearly a year.
Photo courtesy the State Department of Agriculture
Oahu is the
"gathering place" and Molokai is known as the "friendly isle," but,
if you're a nonnative insect or pathogen, Maui is a combination
of both. With 560 monthly flights from the Mainland and an additional
30 from Canada, Maui's Kahului Airport has become insect central
in the state's war on invasive species.
There are only
four state Department of Agriculture inspectors on duty at any one
time at Kahului, the same staffing levels the airport had more than
20 years ago, when it didn't receive Mainland or international flights.
As a result, the overworked inspectors put in shifts that would
make a first-year medical resident's head spin.
is just one big, leaky sieve," says Lloyd Loope, research scientist
with U.S. Geological Survey, who specializes in invasive species.
"Every day new things are coming in. People tend to focus in on
the biggest threats, but if a new insect or pathogen is arriving
daily, our ecosystem is just being whittled away."
2000 to July 2001, the Deptartment of Agriculture conducted a pest
risk assessment on the movement of alien species into Maui from
the continental U.S. and areas abroad. The effort was part of a
larger environmental study that was examining the possible impacts
of a lengthened runway (and increased overseas air traffic) on the
rest of the Island. The department doubled its staffing at Kahului
and conducted seven, three- and four-week "blitzes," which involved
intensive inspections of checked and carry-on baggage by inspectors
and detector dog teams, inspections of aircraft cabins and cargo
holds of Mainland flights and 100 percent inspections of agricultural
products shipped by air cargo.
GOOD: During the Kahului Airport Pest Risk Assessment, dog detector
teams inspected 100 percent of agricultural products shipped
by air cargo. Photo
courtesy the State Department of Agriculture
made wildlife and conservation officials shake their heads in disbelief.
During their blitzes, inspectors intercepted 1,401 insects on agricultural
commodities. Of the 279 species intercepted, 125 were not known
to occur in Hawaii, 103 were established in Hawaii and 51 were of
undetermined status. One hundred fifty-six interceptions involved
plant disease organisms, 47 of which were determined to be pathogenic
species. A total of 1,404 interceptions was made in the 130-day
blitz, a rate that equals the average amount of insect interceptions
"What we found
wasn't as eye opening as how much we found," says Neil Reimer, manager
for the Department of Agriculture's plant quarantine branch. "Essentially,
in our business, the harder you look the more you are going to find."
One of the risk
assessment recommendations was to dramatically increase inspection
staffing at Kahului Airport to a minimum of 14 inspectors. However,
the report pointed out that 19 inspectors was a more "realistic"
number, which would account for sick and vacation leave and not
require staff to put in overtime. Today, Kahului is still staffed
by just five inspectors.
has more problems than just a shortage of inspection personnel.
According to Loope, the airport has a number of environmental characteristics
that enhance stowaway insect survivability. "The trade winds blow
inland at Kahului, unlike Honolulu International Airport's breezes,
which blow things out to the ocean. An insect could be on top of
Haleakala in no time," says Loope. "Kahului also doesn't have a
separate cargo facility, so aircraft cargo holds are opened up right
on the tarmac. And unlike Mainland airports, there are a myriad
of microclimates within a short drive of Kahului. Finally, the airport
is surrounded by protected wetlands, a perfect way station for insects,
especially for hitchhiking, disease-carrying mosquitoes. It's a
A 48-question survey may provide the answer to the Islands’ weed
BY THE SEASHORE: Gracilaria salicornia algae covers Waikiki
Beach after a storm. Researchers thought it would be a good
source of agar, a solidifying agent, and intentionally released
it in waters throughout the state. Photo:
federal and conservation officials are racing to close as many of
the back and side doors in Hawaii's plant quarantine system, many
of the Islands' plant pests are carried right through the front
door. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service,
60 percent of Hawaii's problematic plants were intentionally introduced.
The green monster
Salvinia molesta, which fouled Lake Wilson two summers ago, is a
popular plant used in aquaria. Miconia, the scourge of rain forests
in Tahiti, was imported into Hawaii in 1960.
any plant specimen can be imported into the Islands as long as it
is not on the state noxious weed list, a listing that is largely
comprised of agricultural pests (specifically threats to sugar cane
and pineapple plants) and is infrequently updated.
To be fair,
it is difficult to predict which plant will suddenly, without warning,
turn into a weed and start dominating a landscape. However, several
years ago, University of Hawaii at Manoa botany professor Curt Daehler
developed a weed risk assessment (WRA) system that makes pest prediction
less of an art and more of a science. Daehler adapted the system
from procedures currently in use in Australia and New Zealand.
The WRA is built
around a 48-question survey, which covers such areas as the plant's
native climate and environment, and also individual characteristics
such as how fast it grows, how quickly it reproduces, if it needs
a special pollinator, if it has thorns or if it is toxic. Each question
is given a rating, and then a final score is tabulated. If a plant
receives a score of zero to five, it is considered safe. If it scores
six or higher, the plant is classified as a pest that should not
be planted. Salvinia scored a jaw-dropping 28 on the survey, just
several points short of pest perfection.
Salvinia molesta, a popular plant used in aquaria, is widely
considered the worst weed in the world. It got a near perfect
score when evaluated by a weed risk assessment. Photo:
George F. Lee, Honolulu Star Bulletin
2001 and June 2002, Daehler scored approximately 200 plants currently
in Hawaii against his system. He then sent that list of plants to
25 botanists/weed scientists and asked these experts to rate the
plants by their actual behavior. Daehler found that his survey had
a 95 percent success rate in predicting pests. Predictions of non-pests
had a slightly lower success rate, 85 percent.
is purely voluntary at this point, but we have to start somewhere,"
says Daehler. "Our big fear was that our favorite plants and all
the money makers would be classified as pests. That certainly wouldn't
be a viable system. We have to balance our economic interests."
that the nursery industry has been receptive to utilizing the WRA.
In addition, Peter Young, chairperson of the Board of Land & Natural
Resources is currently evaluating the system. But whether or not
the WRA becomes government policy, as it has in Australia and New
Zealand, Daehler hopes that his findings will be disseminated and
will find believers in the grass roots, so to speak.
the list spreads the word around and people start discussing it
and maybe government agencies will look at it and decide to use
other, less invasive plants for contract work," says Daehler. "We
are never going to have a perfect system. We can't say for sure
who is right. We just have to make people more aware of the choices
that they have out there."