Visitors flock to the Hawaiian Islands for sun-soaked holidays filled with silky beaches, turquoise water, lush green hillsides — and naked palm trees missing their leafy crowns?
That possibility has state officials worried because Hawaii’s iconic swaying palm trees are under attack. Their nemesis is the latest in a long line of invasive species to arrive here: the coconut rhinoceros beetle.
Much as the Asian long-horned beetle attacked maple and elm trees on the East Coast, the coconut rhinoceros beetle could devastate Hawaii’s palm trees and move on to bananas, papayas, sugar cane and other crops afterward. Adult beetles burrow into the crowns of palm trees to feed on their sap, damaging developing leaves and eventually killing the trees.
At this point, eradication is still possible. It’s going to take a long time, but it’s still possible.- Rob Curtiss, incident commander for Hawaii’s coconut rhinoceros beetle eradication program
Concerns that the thumb-sized pest, named for its curved horn, could hitch a ride to California or Florida and attack thriving palm oil and date industries there have prompted federal and state officials to declare the beetle’s discovery in Honolulu a pest emergency.
One year into the fight — Dec. 23, 2014, was the anniversary of the beetle’s discovery on coconut palms at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam — state officials are cautiously optimistic.
“At this point, eradication is still possible. It’s going to take a long time, but it’s still possible,”
A bill prohibiting having feral deer or releasing them into the wild was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Senate Bill 3001 was passed by the Legislature as a measure to prevent the spread of Axis deer.
The deer have thrived on Maui, causing an estimated $1 million in damage to farms, ranches and tourist resorts. There has been environmental damage on Molokai and Lanai as well. And recently on Hawaii island, they have caused damage to ranch grasslands, farm crops and plants that are vital to maintain watershed areas.
The new law aims to stop the deliberate spread of wild or feral deer and establishes penalties for the intentional possession or interisland transportation or release of wild or feral deer.
“It is imperative that Hawai’i’s environment and local industry be protected from the devastating effects that non-native species can pose to the health of our local economy and ecosystem, ” said Sen. Gilbert Kahele (District 2- Ka’u, Puna, Hilo), who introduced the measure. “This measure establishes the regulations needed to prevent the unwanted spread of Axis Deer so that our environment and businesses can continue to grow and prosper,” he said in a press release.
Stink bugs, the smelly scourge of the mid-Atlantic, are hitch-hiking and gliding their way across the country. Officially known as the brown marmorated stink bug, sightings of the pest have been reported in 33 states, an increase of eight states since last fall.
“I would say people now regard them as an out-of-control pest,” says Kim Hoelmer, a research entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Newark, Del.
The National Pest Management Association warns homeowners this week that the bugs’ growing populations are likely to make infestations significantly worse this year. “This season’s stink bug population will be larger than in the past,” says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for NPMA.
The bugs have been spotted as far west as California, as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Florida. Only the Rockies and Plains states have escaped thus far. The eight states recently joining the stink bug party are Arizona, Iowa, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, according to the USDA’s Greg Rosenthal.
Rosenthal says a report of a stink bug in a state does not necessarily mean that the pest is established or that agricultural damage has been reported in that state.
Stink bugs are named for the pungent smell they emit when frightened, disturbed or squashed.
MECKLENBURG COUNTY, Va. — Talk to fishermen here, and you will hear the legend of Buggs Island Lake: A Navy diver sent to recover the wreckage of a small plane encounters a fish the size of a man on the lake’s bottom. He bolts to the surface and refuses to dip a toe in the waters again.
The yarn seemed as dubious as any other fish tale — until two weeks ago. An angler hooked a 143-pound blue catfish in this reservoir along the Virginia-North Carolina border; it smashed the state record by more than 30 pounds and could be a world record.
It is likely not the only one lurking out there. A monster fish that can easily top 100 pounds and stretch nearly five feet has come of age in the region’s waterways.
It has a distended beer gut of a belly, a chin studded with whiskers tipped with taste-bud-like sensors and a grunt like a pig’s. Like a creature from a Hollywood B-movie, it has grown fat from conditions created by pollution.
Blue catfish have exploded in numbers and size in many local river systems, biologists say, spawning the type of giant fish more commonly found in the species’ native Mississippi River — or in the pages of Mark Twain. And no one is sure how big they’ll get here.
The rise of “blue cats” has spurred a response as strange as any fish story. Nearly everyone agrees it is a monster of sorts, but whether that is necessarily a bad thing depends on whom you talk to.
Rats have plagued Hawaiians for a very long time, and not just the human residents.
Rats were the first invasive species in Hawaii. The first voyagers to the Hawaiian Islands brought Polynesian rats, Rattus exulans, and they spread quickly, colonizing the islands faster and farther than the people. Ancient Hawaii was a world full of spectacular birds, insects, and plants; the only native land mammal didn’t crawl – it flew – the hoary bat.
These native species evolved without seed-eating, egg-stealing rodents, so when rats arrived, plants were defenseless and birds were naive to this new threat. Compounding the situation, the Polynesian rat was followed by other rodents: the Norwegian ship rat and house mouse – hitchhikers in the European and American ships of the late 1700s and 1800s. Rodents ate their way through Hawaii, overrunning the islands from the shore to mountain top, fueled by a diet rich in plants, birds, snails and insects.
According to Peter Dunlevy, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service biologist with 15 years of experience researching rats, the greatest impact isn’t on any one particular area. Rats hammer numerous aspects of the environment – from the seeds they devour to the nesting albatross they attack. “But everything is on such a small scale with rodents; it’s easy to overlook.”
Hawaii gardeners have the advantage of a year-round growing season that allows us to pick up plants any time of year and add them to our backyard collection. And local garden centers carry an abundance of ornamental shrubs, trees and herbs from which to choose.
The University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service wants to help home gardeners to be knowledgeable when choosing plant material. The UH Master Gardeners on Oahu have teamed up with the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to provide classes and demonstrations to the public. (See the Star-Advertiser’s Home & Garden calendar for class listings.)
What is an invasive species? Technically, according to HISC, an invasive species is an alien species — plant, animal, or microbe transported by humans to a location outside its native range — whose introduction has caused or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Basically, foreign plant material that propagates at warp speed and those seeds or plant parts that can travel long distances to naturally forested areas are termed invasive. These plants often demonstrate rapid and aggressive growth, production of numerous seeds that are spread easily by wind, wing or water, and the ability to grow under many different soil and climatic conditions.
What is the impact of invasive species? It’s the plants whose “keiki” reach the natural forested areas that take the largest toll on our native species and ecosystems. They threaten native plant habitats, reducing the number of native plants and affecting plant biodiversity, as well as the insect biodiversity that depends on those plants.
Invasive species are so pervasive in Hawaii’s low-lying areas that the U.S. Forest Service says it’s not cost-effective or practical to eradicate them all. Instead, it’s launching new research into developing “hybrid ecosystems” that will incorporate some nonnative plants but allow native plants to thrive.
The service has received a $1.6 million grant from the Defense Department’s strategic environmental research program to study the possibility.
“Invasive species are so prevalent. You’re hand weeding, trying to eliminate them and aren’t able to keep up with them. It feels like you’re fighting a losing battle,” said Susan Cordell, research ecologist with the Forest Service. “Restoring these lowland tropical forests to a historic native state is not financially or physically feasible.”
Hawaii’s low-lying native trees and plants were wiped out by cattle, goats and other nonnative mammals that were set free to graze after the arrival of the first Europeans in the islands in the late 1700s. The animals trampled on ferns and undergrowth, drying the soil and tree roots. Later reforestation efforts resulted in the planting of fast-growing nonnative trees like eucalyptus instead of native trees.
To see intact native ecosystems, you have to climb high into the mountains.
Cordell said the grant will allow researchers to find ways for native species to “coexist” with some nonnative species.
LIHU‘E — Celebrate Arbor Day in Hawai‘i and “go green” by purchasing and planting a native plant from the Arbor Day plant sale on Friday, November 5, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) Pua Loke nursery located at 4398-D Pua Loke St. in Lihu‘e.
Local floral enthusiasts and rare plant collectors look forward to the annual event, especially since DOFAW began offering federally listed threatened and endangered plants, native to Hawai‘i and used for the State’s conservation programs.
This year’s sale will feature a diverse array of Kaua‘i’s botanical gems, such as Ma‘o hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei), Aloalo (Hibiscus clayi), Hau kuahiwi (Hibiscadelphus distans), Uhiuhi (Caesalpinia kavaiensis), and Loulu (Pritchardia remota). All of these species are endemic to Hawai‘i, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world, and will bear a numbered tag for authenticity.