LEHUA ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is investigating to determine if a project aimed at killing off rats on Lehua Island inadvertently killed fish and birds.
The state confirmed that a monitoring team has collected 45 dead fish that appear to be mullets and two dead birds that are likely juvenile brown boobies from the north/crater side of the island.
Samples do not appear to show any immediate evidence that the animals died from the poison drop, but an investigation is ongoing.
The state launched the investigation after a series of social media posts that showed the dead animals.
"I was pretty disgusted," said Kilauea resident Dustin Barca, who ran for Kauai County mayor in 2014. "They promised up and down this kind of stuff wouldn't happen and it's just common sense with a small place with a fragile ecosystem like that, it's common sense that there will be negative effects."
"Mortalities of fish and seabirds occur regularly, and there a many other plausible causes for these deaths," the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said, in a news release. "Mortality among wild fish and bird populations is common so a correlation does not demonstrate causation."
But the state said samples from the dead animals will be sent to a laboratory in hopes of finding a cause of death or to check for the presence of diphacinone, the rodenticide used in the project.
The eradication effort kicked off last month, and has spurred concerns from some who worry the rat poison drops affect area fish.
"I have concerns because I want to make sure those fish, if they were consumed by bigger fish, will not affect the food chain," said state Rep. Dee Morikawa (D-Niihau, Lehua, Waimea, Koloa).
The state said monitoring teams have been making daily checks along accessible nearshore areas on the south side of the island. A DLNR team will head out in a boat on Wednesday to check for any other dead fish or birds along the north side of Lehua.
The state said a third and final application of rodenticide is planned in the next few weeks.
Lehua Island is one of the largest and most diverse seabird colonies in Hawaii, with 17 seabird species and 25 native plants.