Board approves final EA needed to start saving endangered birds from mosquitos
Last week, the state took one step closer toward its goal to decrease the mosquito population on East Maui in order to save its native birds.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the environmental assessment needed start the process of mosquito suppression from Makawao to Kaupō.
Bird advocates have supported ongoing efforts to eliminate avian malaria, a deadly disease for the endangered Hawaiian Honeycreeper spread through mosquitos. The proposed project would release male mosquitos into the state who have the Wolbachia bacteria with the hopes that they will mate with female mosquitos carrying avian malaria.
Female mosquitoes only mate once in their life, and store the sperm to use for the rest of their life. When they store sperm from an incompatible male, they lay eggs that never hatch.
This method has been utilized worldwide for human health concerns — but this will be the first time it's been used for conservation purposes.
Scientists predict that several species of native birds will go extinct in the next 10 years without mosquito control. Only about 140 kiwikiu and 1,600 ʻākohekohe remain in the wild.
Although ʻākohekohe are more abundant than the kiwikiu, they have the narrowest range of survival to avian malaria. They also have no resistance to the disease and can't live anywhere with the seasonal influx of mosquitoes.
"Some of these birds have been on the planet for millions of years, and we just desperately don't want to see their end," said Chris Warren, the forest bird coordinator with Haleakalā National Park.
"I work with people now that have seen and heard multiple species that have gone extinct. So these birds mean a lot to the people. It's an emotional thing for all of us," he said.
More than 90 species of native birds have gone extinct due to the introduction of mosquitoes and avian malaria.
The plan can begin as early as late spring with the final approval of local permits.