After years of infestation, a rat-free Lehua Island now welcomes native plants and birds

After years of infestation, a rat-free Lehua Island now welcomes native plants and birds
After many decades, Lehua Island is free of invasive rats. (Source: Department of Land and Natural Resources)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After decades of infestation, Lehua Island is rat-free.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources made the declaration Wednesday, saying that Hawaii’s seabirds can safely nest and native plants can flourish on the tiny island off Kauai’s west shore.

Crews successfully removed invasive rabbits from the island back in 2006 and have been working on eradicating the rats ever since.

The state said this month marks two years since any rats were found on the island.

The analysis prompted the DLNR to officially declare the pests eradicated.

“Those of us who do this kind of work in the field all the time can fully appreciate the impact that things like rats, slugs and snails have on native plants,” said Mike DeMotta, of the Institution for National Tropical botanical Garden.

With the eradication of rats, DLNR and their partners have already been seeing progress in the nesting of seabirds.

“The results are all around us. The birds are happy. They are not being eaten by rats anymore and now we can move onto other things,” said Mele Khalsa, of Island Conservation.

DLNR said the island supports one of the most diverse seabird colonies in the Hawaiian Islands, with at least 17 species calling Lehua home.

Some of the dominant birds on the island include red-footed boobies and Laysan albatross.

DLNR and their partners hope that Lehua might also host the endangered Newell’s shearwater, which had attempted to nest on the island but was unsuccessful due to the rats.

Restoring some of the 14 native plants, 11 of which are found only in Hawaii, is the next step in DLNR’s project for Lehua Island.

Copyright 2021 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.