Invasive Species are a big problem in Hawaii

Mar 3, 2021 | General Information

We all know that Hawaii is a very unique place. In addition to its volcanic origin and diversity of beauty and attractions, the islands attract visitors because of their geographic isolation. In spite of that isolation, over a very long period of time a remarkable amount of plant and animal species arrived in the islands, mostly without human assistance. Floating on waves, blown by winds, carried by birds, what we refer to as “native species” lived in splendid isolation in the islands through more than 70 million years of volcanic history.

Over that vast amount of time Hawaii’s “native species” evolved and became creatures found nowhere else in the world. The species that arrived over eons benefited from absence of predators and the presence of a benign environment. They didn’t have to defend themselves or acquire defensive mechanisms. But as people traveled the world eventually arrived in Hawaii, they also brought with them what became known as “invasive species.”

Odd creatures like coqui frogs became one of Hawaii’s many “invasive species.” When billionaire Larry Ellison bought the island of Lanai in 2012, he knew little or nothing about coqui frogs that had made their home on his island oasis. But very soon, however, Ellison’s management team knew enough about coqui frogs to take action. When they were informed about a single male coqui frog, the size of a dime, that someone captured on Lanai, Ellison’s team sprang into action. Word went out to Lanai’s residents to report any sightings of coqui frogs or their high-pitched sounds.

Residents of the Aloha State are famous for their welcoming spirit. But obviously that doesn’t apply to coqui frogs and other invasive species like the giant Bingabing tree. Already well-established on Oahu and the Big Island, Bingabing trees recently were found on Kauai. Its huge leaves form dense thickets that can shade and choke out any surrounding plants. Native to the Philippines, they grow up to 30 feet high and spread quickly through forests, preventing the growth of other plants. In response, Kauai set up an Invasive Species Committee to preserve the Garden Island and prevent Bingabing trees from spreading. Visitors to Kauai may see crews chopping down trees and wonder what that’s all about. It’s dangerous Bingabing trees being cut down.

The State of Hawaii has an Invasive Species Council. It’s a cabinet-level governmental authority working on prevention, control, technology and other resources for the eradication of nature’s pesky and destructive creatures in the state. In addition to coqui frogs and Bingabing trees, eradication targets include nasty tiny fire ants, that can infest beach parks and other places, and mongoose that steal the eggs of Hawaii’s state bird and also sea turtles. Other invasive species the cause a great deal of damage around Hawaii every year include: Veiled Chameleon that eat native Hawaiian birds, insects, plants and flowers; Apple Snails that damage farmer’s crops and eat the food of native birds; and snakes that not only consume native forest birds and lizards but can cause power outages by climbing up electrical wires and boxes.

In sum, mostly invisible to visitors, Hawaii’s authorities, the University of Hawaii, various Invasive Species Committees, entire neighborhoods and residents on each island year-round are working hard at, and doing a great job of, keeping Hawaii beautiful, safe, productive and attractive. All of these relentless efforts to maintain the Hawaiian paradise are vastly appreciated by residents, the state’s tourism industry, and people like myself who are engaged in bringing visitors to Hawaii for vacations