Community members worry about state plan to import ‘incompatible male’ mosquitoes to control wild population : Kauai Now : Kauai News & Information


A protest outside the Department of Agriculture in Hilo on the Big Island is scheduled for this afternoon against the state’s plan to introduce a mosquito control approach to Hawai’i in a bid to save the species endangered Hawaiian.

On June 28, the state Board of Agriculture accepted a request from the Department of Lands and Natural Resources and the state Department of Health to import inoculated mosquitoes for mosquito control to protect native birds and human health.

The proposal considered by the BOA was the listing of three mosquito species and the approval of permit conditions that would allow the import and release of incompatible males of one species, the southern house mosquito.

A researcher works February 22, 2017 at the University of Hawaii’i Mosquito Lab. (Courtesy of the State Department of Lands and Natural Resources)

The mosquito control approach called the Incompatible Insect Technique, or IIT, uses a naturally occurring bacterium, wolbachia, already present in mosquitoes in Hawai’i to control these invasive pests, DOA officials said.

DOA officials say there is a misconception circulating that the Hawaii Department of Agriculture imports mosquitoes, which they say is not the case.

“What the council has done is put the mosquito species on the Restricted Animal List – Part A, which will allow the DLNR and DOH to import these mosquitoes under specific permit conditions,” officials said.

DOA officials say this issue has undergone several rounds of expert discussion and review, first with the Entomology Subcommittee and with the Plants and Animals Advisory Committee before to be heard by the Board of Agriculture.

At the June BOA meeting, several people testified for and against the mosquito approach. Community members expressed concern saying that no environmental impact assessment had been conducted prior to BOA’s decision.

“I say NO!!!!!!!! until a full environmental impact assessment is done…” Margot Robinson said in a written testimonial. “Please consider keiki , to our health, to our birds and to our animals. Don’t play GOD.

Kristina Ammon wrote in the BOA stating her strong opposition to the introduction of the proposed mosquito strain which she says includes vertical gene transfer.

“The possible negative side effects of genetic alteration and unintended damage to a delicate ecosystem are not worth the hoped-for benefits,” Ammon said.

According to DLNR, two different environmental assessments are being completed right now, one for East Maui and one for Kaua’i. East Maui’s environmental assessment is the closest to publication and is expected to be available for public comment in about two months. A statewide environmental assessment will also follow. Each of these assessments is carried out by independent environmental consulting firms.

“Landscape-wide releases of southern incompatible male house mosquitoes will not occur until environmental assessments are completed,” DLNR officials said. “Small-scale trials that will allow DLNR to provide the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) with the information they need to complete product labeling for this tool, learn how to ship mosquitoes, release rate of incompatible males and improving trapping techniques could go ahead sooner.

DLNR officials stressed that the mosquito control approach does not involve genetic modification or genetic engineering of the mosquito or the bacteria.

“Since the vast majority of public testimony was filed against the release of genetically modified organism (GMO) mosquitoes and/or genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes, it did not reflect the facts of the project at the time. ‘study,’ DLNR officials said.

DLNR stated that the IIT approach using bacteria does not involve genetic modification or genetic engineering of any kind.

“It is not just the DLNR that supports the use of this approach, many other state, federal and private partner organizations such as US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, Hawai’i Department of Health, The American Bird Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species is participating in a larger task force called ‘Birds Not Mosquitoes’ with the goal of saving endangered forest birds,” DLNR said.

There were also several written testimonials supporting the claim. Katherine McClure, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, submitted a written testimonial expressing her support.

“Avian malaria is the most pressing threat to the persistence of native Hawaiian creepers, and without the rapid implementation of southern house mosquito control techniques using mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia, the endangered and endangered Hawaiian creeper species of disappearance will undoubtedly be lost decades to come,” McClure said.

DLNR officials said those backing the request liked how the approach was targeted and did not use chemicals.

“(The approach) uses only male mosquitoes, which do not bite and feed only on nectar and have a short lifespan…” DLNR said.

The state agency added that using male IIT mosquitoes for mosquito control will be the highest priority in critical habitat for endangered forest birds on Kaua’i and East Maui where native forest birds still survive in native upland forests.

“With changing climatic conditions, invasive domestic mosquitoes from the south are able to move higher into the mountains, and populations of forest birds could plummet irreversibly within just two years,” researchers said. responsible.

Tiffany DeMasters

Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Kauai Now. Tiffany worked as a cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She has also contributed articles to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, recognized by the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the stories of the community.
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