After a mix of testimony, the state Board of Agriculture on Tuesday approved a proposal to list, authorize the importation and set permit conditions for the field release of millions of incompatible male mosquitoes for the purpose of to protect Hawaii’s native forest birds.
The three mosquito species allowed for import – all of which are already present in Hawaii – include the southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus), which is responsible for the steep decline in populations of many species of creepers in Maui, Kauai and l island of Hawaii, as well as the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), which can transmit human diseases.
“Mahalo nui kakou for sharing your mana’o and for supporting the Birds Project, Not Mosquitoes and the Hawaiian honeycreepers,” the organization, which is a partnership between state and federal agencies and private nonprofits, said in a Facebook post. “We were moved and grateful for the great number of testimonies of support from many of you.”
The move will allow the Birds, Not Mosquitoes Project and its partners to continue an important conservation effort using male mosquitoes injected with strains of Wolbachia bacteria, according to the post.
Honeycreepers are found nowhere else in the world, but are in dramatic decline due to mosquito-borne avian malaria, according to The Nature Conservancy, which is a nonprofit partner in the project.
“Listing in the endorsements is a critical step to implementing mosquito suppression activities that will give our endangered forest birds a fighting chance against avian malaria, which threatens them with imminent extinction,” the organization said in written testimony on Tuesday.
The release will take place over large landscapes in Maui and Kauai by 2024 to reduce mosquito populations threatening native forest birds.
“While I like the general idea of this approach, compared to the outright use of genetically modified mosquitoes, I think there are legitimate concerns about this method,” said Terry Murakami in written testimony.
Faith Chase of Farmers Voice Hawaii also opposed the project, saying in written testimony that there had not been enough studies to complete the project. “absurd distraction to nature’s balance.”
“There needs to be a new approach to how we take care of our watersheds,” says Chase.
Kristina Ammon also opposed the introduction of incompatible male mosquitoes, noting that possible unforeseen negative side effects could “damaging a fragile ecosystem” and “to make it not worth the expected benefits.”
Despite strong opposition, many locals and officials still applauded this project planned for East Maui, which would be the first time the incompatible insect technique would be used for conservation work to save endangered species.
“This proposed project aligns with Maui County Council’s efforts to recognize the importance of endangered species and participate in multi-level collaborations to protect these creatures from extinction,” said board member Kelly King. “Native species have shaped the culture of our island and play a vital role in our ecosystems.”
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]