State drops rat poison on Lehua Island in effort to preserve bird sanctuary

State drops rat poison on Lehua Island in effort to preserve bird sanctuary
(Image: DLNR)
(Image: DLNR)

LEHUA ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - An effort to eradicate rats on Lehua Island, a seabird sanctuary, has completed its first phase.

The state used a helicopter Wednesday to drop bait with rat poison, and plans two additional applications in the next few weeks.

"I really like how the bait is laying out on the island. There was a lot of concern about how steep the island is and bait rolling around, but we haven't observed that at all. It has been sticking nicely. It has been an even distribution. I think that the rats are hungry and I think they will go right for it," said Mele Khalsa, an island restoration specialist with Island Conservation. The non-profit organization has partnered with the Department of Land and Natural Resources for the project.

Some people, however, are still worried that marine life could be harmed by bait that accidentally ends up in the ocean. Kauai resident Harold Vidinha showed up in his fishing boat to watch the chopper spread the rodenticide pellets.

"I'm for saving the birds and killing the rats, but the method of delivery is the thing. That's what killed the fish, we believe, in 2009, and now we're going to see the results from this one because lot and lot went into the water," said Vidinha.

DLNR officials said the failed rat eradication attempt in 2009 did not cause the fish die-off. The state's permits allow for some of the pellets to go into the ocean.

"The marine environment will be monitored closely to ensure that what is expected based on science and the studies that have been done is that there will be no impact really to fish or sea turtles or monk seals," said Heath Packard, communications director for Island Conservation.

But Vidinha isn't convinced, especially after visiting Lehua Island's tide pools on Wednesday.

"No sooner we got there, this black crab, the 'A'ama crab that was picking up pellets and walking up the hill with it," he said. "We'll see if it's safe or not."

Lehua Island is one of the largest and most diverse seabird colonies in the Hawaiian islands, with 17 seabird species and 25 native plants.

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