Effort to save native birds on Maui getting more public backlash

Court hearings, community meetings, even sign-waving events to stop the release of millions of mosquitoes.
Court hearings, community meetings, even sign-waving events, all to stop the release of so-called "incompatible" mosquitoes.
Published: Jul. 24, 2023 at 6:40 PM HST
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HANA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A small non-profit on Maui is trying to pick up support for its effort to block a mosquito birth-control project.

Supporters of the group Hawaii Unites waived signs outside St. Mary’s Church in Hana last week.

They are also holding a community meeting in Hana this Wednesday as they try to stop the state from releasing male mosquitos infected with a bacterium that makes females unable to reproduce.

“I just want it to be really clear that we are all on the same team of wanting to save these birds,” said Hawaii Unites founder Tina Lia. “The reason that we’re pursuing this is we’re worried that this is going to have the opposite effect, and we might lose these birds because of this project.”

Lia filed a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order against the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

DLNR’s goal is to reduce avian malaria, which has been killing endangered native birds.

The state finalized an environmental assessment that found no negative impact.

However, Hawaii Unites is demanding an environmental impact statement to be completed before any more mosquitoes are released.

Critics worry the state could mistakenly release some untreated mosquitoes, exacerbating the problem.

“This is why we’re seeking the environmental impact statement. So that we can learn more and maybe we have enough information to feel one way or the other about it,” Lia said.

A state expert testified last week, saying that the mosquito program would have no harmful effects on the birds or the environment.

Nicole Ferguson with Maui Forest, Bird Recovery Project, was asked what would happen if a Hawaiian honeycreeper ingested one of the lab-infected mosquitoes.

“Gastric juices will digest that organism very quickly. So, the mosquito itself, as well as the Wolbachia, would be digested and would just be reduced to proteins, enzymes, fats, etc.,” Ferguson responded.

Ferguson was also asked what would happen if a human being mistakenly ingested a lab-infected mosquito.

“The process would be the same. Our digestion is actually very similar to that of birds. So, if I were to swallow a mosquito right now, it would go from my esophagus into my stomach, and the digestive juices of the stomach would break down that mosquito in the same way,” said Ferguson.

The state hopes to eventually release the mosquitoes statewide.

Monday, July 24th, is the last day for the public to comment on the Kauai Environmental Assessment.

The next hearing is set for August 15th.

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