STAR-BULLETIN / 2003
A mixture of lime and water, applied here by Puna resident Clive Cheetham in the Koae area south of Hilo, is currently the only measure in use to check the noisy coqui frogs. Problem is, only 80 percent of the invaders are killed by the chemical, and the population recovers within two months.
$4.9M approved for coqui fight
A state team will go to Puerto Rico to seek biological controls
HILO » Big Island legislators announced yesterday approval of $4.9 million to fight noisy coqui frogs and a new emphasis on biological measures to try to defeat the non-native invaders.
The statewide funding extends to prevention and control of all invasive species, including more than $2.9 million for 58 additional inspectors at airports and harbors.
Federal agencies have 450 inspectors to check goods going to the mainland, but Hawaii now has only 75 inspectors to look for species coming from the mainland, the legislators said.
Another bill passed by the Legislature designates the coqui as a pest for the first time and gives the state Department of Agriculture authority to go on private property to control the frogs, without permission if necessary.
"This is really a breakthrough for the state," said Sen. Russell Kokubun (D, Puna-Kau).
The coquis, native to Puerto Rico, arrived in Hawaii in the late 1980s but did not gain public attention here until the late 1990s. Since then their numbers have increased dramatically, reaching concentrations as much as three times their density in Puerto Rico, said University of Hawaii-Hilo biologist Bill Mautz.
Hawaii not only lacks the birds, snakes, spiders and scorpions that feed on them in their native land, it also lacks the parasites in Puerto Rico -- which might be the key to controlling them, Mautz said.
"In the long term, biological control is the solution," said Billy Kenoi, Mayor Harry Kim's anti-coqui coordinator.
A team of researchers will go to Puerto Rico in August to look for parasites, said Kyle Onuma, of the state Department of Agriculture.
Another possibility is releasing sterile males to break the reproduction cycle, just as sterile fruit fly males are now released, Mautz said.
Biological control is sought because chemical control with water mixtures of citric acid or hydrated lime kill only 80 percent of the coquis in heavily infested areas, Mautz said. The survivors can return to former densities in as little as two months.
But with spraying currently being the only option, legislators announced $2 million to continue that program. Of that, $1.8 million will go to the Big Island, partly because the problem is worst there, partly because the frogs need to be killed there so they will not re-infest other islands.
Maui will get $150,000 to treat 150 acres; Oahu, $50,000 to treat 14 acres; and Kauai, $50,000 to treat 15 acres.
Besides the legislators, the Oahu Invasive Species Committee announced yesterday that state workers will begin making "coqui house calls" on Oahu to places where residents hear the distinctive "co-KEE" call of the male frogs.
When people make a report to the pest hot line, 643-PEST (7378), workers will come to their home and capture the frogs if they can or kill them with citric acid, said the committee's Rachel Neville.