Mosquito population control project gets key approval | News, Sports, Jobs

The rare and critically endangered ‘akohekohe, or crested creeper, perches on a branch. Local scientists have received permission to apply for a permit to import compatible male mosquitoes for a project that could prevent the spread of avian malaria and save Hawaii’s native birds. Photo by C.ROBBY KOHLEY

A project that would slow the spread of avian malaria with “mosquito birth control” received another green light this week as conservation organizations attempt to save Maui’s critically endangered native forest birds from extinction.

The state Department of Agriculture’s Plants and Animals Advisory Committee unanimously agreed Thursday to recommend to the Board of Agriculture to list, authorize importation and establish conditions permits for the field release of three species of mosquitoes – all of which are already present in Hawaii – as part of efforts to introduce incompatible male mosquitoes into wild populations that threaten creepers, which are found nowhere anywhere else in the world.

This decision will allow the Birds, Not Mosquitoes Project and its state, federal and non-governmental organization partners to proceed with the application for an import permit for incompatible male mosquitoes for use on large landscapes in Maui and Kauai d 2024.

“This technique is the most promising tool we have,” said Luka Zavas of the American Bird Conservancy at a town hall meeting hosted by Maui County Councilman Kelly Takaya King on Thursday evening.

This tool has been used successfully around the world for public health reasons to mitigate the spread of disease among people. However, if this project takes off in the forests of East Maui, it would be the first time the incompatible insect technique has been used for conservation work to save endangered species.

An amakihi takes a bite of a pilo berry in Haleakala National Park in 2021. The Birds, Not Mosquitoes project aims to suppress non-native mosquitoes with “mosquito birth control” to help prevent avian malaria. A. BOONE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE photo

“Hawaii’s endangered forest birds are on the way to extinction at an accelerating rate, but we actually have a new technology we can use to save our species from extinction and eventually bring them to extinction. ‘plenty”, said Jonathan Likeke Scheuer of Kahalawai Consulting LLC. “For us, it’s not just about saving the birds. It is also about preserving the biocultural relationships that we have with our birds and that our birds have with our forests.

A technique described as “mosquito birth control” would be used by federal and state conservation agencies, such as the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the state Department of Lands and Natural Resources, as a means of reducing mosquito breeding and preventing bird extinction native foresters of Hawaii as they fall victim to avian malaria.

In case there is another outbreak of mosquito-borne human disease in Hawaii, the state’s Department of Health has also obtained permits to use the same technology – used in other countries – to protect health. human, Scheuer said.

The birth control method uses male, non-biting mosquitoes with a strain of a bacteria called Wolbachia that is incompatible with the strain of Wolbachia currently found in wild mosquitoes in Hawaii, said Zavas, who also does awareness for birds, not mosquitoes. project.

When male mosquitoes mate with females in the forest, the eggs fail to hatch and the size of the mosquito population decreases, she added.

Despite the rumours, Scheuer said no genes are changed in the mosquito or in the Wolbachia bacteria.

Mosquito species authorized for import include the southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus), which is responsible for the steep decline in populations of many creeper species on the islands of Maui, Kauai and Hawaii, as well as the yellow fever (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian mosquito. the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), which transmits human diseases, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Hawaii’s landscape-scale mosquito control implementation schedule continues with testing and building mosquito populations on the mainland, which includes separating males and females and then verifying that males are actually incompatible; import millions of species to Hawaii; then develop release technologies, for example by helicopter, by personnel on hikes or by drone.

“We try to do this in the most thoughtful way and with as much public participation as possible, but at the same time knowing that some of our birds now face mosquitoes all year round and that some of our species are dying off can -be of a sting, do this as quickly as possible, so that we can introduce this technology into our forests,” Scheuer said.

Once in Maui, mosquitoes could be released every two weeks to every two months, with the number of mosquitoes per release still under review, said Hanna Mounce, coordinator of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project.

“It will certainly be a very laborious process,” said Mounce. “We have to target where the birds are right now in order to, you know, stop this imminent threat and then after that, if it’s really successful and it works very well, which we really hope it will be, then we can consider something even more promising, like expanding the habitat they have.

Haleakala National Park spokesperson Jin Harlow said next steps also include planning and writing an environmental assessment for Maui, which will be completed in August or September.

The public will have a 30-day comment period on the draft EA once completed before the NPS and DLNR make a final decision in November or December.

In the meantime, an environmental assessment will be initiated for Kauai and a statewide environmental assessment will be developed thereafter.

In 2023, the Birds, Not Mosquitoes project will obtain emergency use permit and/or emergency exemption permits and other registrations, as well as field testing, monitoring, and small-scale research. scale, Scheuer said.

By 2024, the group hopes to launch landscape-scale versions on Maui and Kauai and continue monitoring efforts. If all goes well, statewide releases will take place the following year.

Hawaii is set to receive $14 million under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to help support such efforts that would save at least four native Hawaiian creeper species from the brink of extinction on Maui and other islands.

Only 17 species of honeycreepers remain statewide, including six on Maui, Zavas said. Of the six found in remote areas of Valley Island, three are endangered: ‘akohekohe, kiwikiu, and i’iwi.

Disease-carrying mosquitoes have invaded the high-altitude forests of east Maui and the slopes of Haleakala where the birds live, and warming temperatures coupled with habitat loss are forcing the birds to climb the mountains.

“We are really seeing the impacts of the disease and how climate change is pushing their disappearance,” Zavas said.

Success of the “mosquito birth control” The project can be measured through the size of native forest bird populations — if numbers are growing — and the prevalence of avian malaria found in mosquito specimens, Harlow said.

Research and monitoring will continue throughout the project, which the organizations involved say is low risk, safe for human and animal populations, and a situation in which unintended consequences have been “strongly verified.”

“What’s a very real possibility are the negative effects if we don’t,” said Mounce. “The disappearance (of native forest birds) is a very real consequence of our doing nothing.”

For more information on the Birds, Not Mosquitoes partnership and mosquito birth control, visit the project website.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]

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