Aerial surveys, visitor campaigns underscore rapid ohia death’s massive toll

Updated: Apr. 23, 2019 at 5:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rapid ohia death is back in the spotlight while so much attention turns to the Big Island during the Merrie Monarch Festival.

That's why the fight to stop the fungal disease is not only a top priority for scientists, but also Hawaii's tourism industry.

For a third year, scientists flew over the Big Island, east Maui, and Kauai in the search for areas potentially impacted by Rapid Ohia Death.

"What we're really tuned to do is map the health and condition of every tree in the forest as we pass over it," said Dr. Greg Asner of the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science.

The aerial survey covered just over a million acres of ohia forest.

On the Big Island alone, it's believed that the fungus has already infected 180,000 acres.

“That sounds like a lot of area, but that area varies in levels of infestation from just a few percent trees that have been killed, to all the way over 90%,” said Robert Hoff, the state protection forester for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“A lot of that forest has healthy ohia trees in it, but it’s affecting forest in that that broad of an area.”

The overflights involve a high-tech turboprop aircraft loaded with sophisticated mapping and detection equipment. The 2019 data is still being analyzed.

The state said the all-important mapping likely wouldn’t have happened without $250,000 in funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

The agency is also partnering with DLNR on a campaign called “Malama Hawaii.”

HTA has created seven public service announcements that will be available aboard Hawaiian Airlines flights, DLNR’s Facebook page, and 27,000 hotel rooms across the state.

It said the goal is to remind Hawaii visitors to respect our natural resources, protect wildlife, and of course, be safe at all times.

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