Keep these uninvited guests out
HAWAII is being overrun by visitors that refuse to leave. They arrive by airplane. They arrive by ship, and they're often free-riding stowaways. Unfortunately, their visas don't expire, and the IRS doesn't come looking for them. They are "exotic" plants, animals, insects and pathogens that like the balmy island climate and adapt too well to island life.
When I first arrived in Hawaii to manage a botanical garden on the island of Kauai, there were north shore resident "hippies" -- young men and women who lived off the land in the remote valleys. If you went for a hike you'd see them naked as Adam and Eve, eating wild bananas and mangoes.
They bathed under waterfalls, let their hair grow long, smoked devil weed and lived a carefree "survivor" lifestyle. For a while, no one took them very seriously. Although they were a curious lot, they didn't seem to bother anyone and preferred to be left alone to "do their thing."
The state came to realize that it didn't want this type of "visitor" (or squatter). The desirable visitors were the ones who would fill hotels, dine at fine restaurants and buy matching aloha shirts and muumuus.
The Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources helped trade an economic liability (squatter) for an economic resource (tourists). They launched a SWAT-type campaign and swept all the free-loading hippies with their tents, tree-houses and unused winter clothing off the island.
Invasive species are like those uninvited hippie squatters of the island's past. They arrive and don't leave. But instead of living off the land, invasive species take over the whole neighborhood. They multiply and dominate the biotic community at the expense of native species.
Someone needs to tap these uninvited, invasive species on the shoulder and escort them out of the state, and watch that they don't come back. The best candidate I can recommend for this job is the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Islands are unique and fragile. What makes them special are all of the plants and animals that migrated, colonized and evolved over thousands of years. It's the phenomenon Charlie Darwin told us about from his travels back in 1835 when the H.M.S. Beagle carried him to another set of remote islands, the Galapagos.
Hawaii is under attack daily from the baggage of well-meaning visitor and merchant cargo arriving on the islands. Some introductions are intentional like goats, pigs, hula hoops and blackberries. Who doesn't like blackberry jam? Other species creep in as undetected and uninvited stowaways like mosquitoes and the nasty diseases they host. The impact of these introductions can be devastating. Half of the Hawaiian honeycreepers are extinct, and the other half face extinction due to mosquito transmitted avian malaria and avian pox. Malaria and West Nile virus could be next.
The people of Hawaii have traditionally held a deep respect for the land and sea. These values have led to the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Refuge. Now is the time to rally in defense of the land and its fragile ecosystem.
Environmental management of invasive species involves complex and multiple control strategies. Island residents need to work together with conservation institutions, tourism and fisheries as well as state and federal organizations like the USDA to establish a modern system of kapus that safeguard the island environment.
Pending in Congress is a bill to fortify the work of the USDA in controlling and keeping invasive species out of your islands. In protecting the fragile fabric of species, Hawaii could be the model for islands fighting invasive species. Please e-mail Congressman Neil Abercrombie, or Rep. Ed Case, the bill's sponsor, in support of H.R. 3468.IH, which would "require the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to expand Federal efforts to prevent the introduction in Hawaii of non-native plants, animals, and plant and animal diseases."
Since returning to the mainland, I've come to appreciate how the people of Hawaii value island culture, history, the aina and each other. You have aloha for visitors, too, which is uncommon in this hectic world. Just a word of caution from a former resident -- you don't want the kudzu that lives where I do, its relatives or its invasive friends at your luau. No aloha for them, please. They'll crash your party. They'll crash the environment.
Greg Nace lived on Kauai for 16 years, where he was the assistant director of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. He now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., and is the director of horticulture for the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a botanical garden on the campus of Duke University.