Stop hating coquis and put them to work for Hawaii
THE Star-Bulletin's Thursday editorial, "Frog problem represents larger failure to block pests," points out that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But what if we are past prevention, as with the coqui frog? The question now is, if a species becomes impossible to eradicate, when do you stop trying to control it and begin to accept it?
Of course, the answer depends on how bad the species is, how effective control efforts are and what harmful side effects are created by the control efforts themselves.
Are coquis really bad? If a species causes human disease, such as malaria, or agricultural damage, like some insect pests, then continued control efforts are worthwhile. But coqui frogs are harmless to humans, apart from their chirping that some people don't like. And they are good for agriculture, since they eat insect pests. Their negative impact on agriculture is caused by the quarantine and desire not to spread them. And the alleged harmful effect on tourism and real estate is completely based on a negative attitude about the coquis. In other places, such as the Caribbean, the coqui is loved, and it attracts tourists and increases real estate values. So it is an attitude issue, not a frog issue, that threatens the Hawaii economy.
Are control methods effective? For coquis, control involves spraying the frogs and their environment with concentrated citric acid or hydrated lime, which must coat the frogs to burn them to death, or hand-catching the frogs and then heating or freezing them to death. Clearly these are cruel, inefficient methods that will not work well on controlling acres of frogs, making control extremely impractical and ineffective. Control efforts also help spread the coquis, since many frogs just jump away. Coquis are now permanently established on the Big Island and Maui, as well as on parts of Oahu and Kauai, where eradication efforts have failed. Are the taxpayers to continue paying for coqui control, spending millions more every year -- forever?
COURTESY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER
A coqui frog perches on the flower of a ginger plant. CLICK FOR LARGE
IS control safe? Spraying concentrated citric acid can burn humans and pets, as well as plants and non-target animals. And hydrated lime can cause permanent blindness and lung damage in humans and pets, making it highly dangerous.
Coqui control is, therefore, ineffective, unsafe and unnecessary. Since the coquis are here to stay, it makes sense to accept that they are now part of Hawaii. There are some good things about them, or they would not be so loved in the Caribbean.
Hawaii is being portrayed as a paradise lost, infested with shrieking frog monsters. Talk about a turn-off for tourists and homeowners! The government is wasting millions each year slashing and burning the environment to kill, kill, kill, while homeowners are pressured into compliance or feel the scorn of hysterical neighbors or the wrath of the government armed with new legislation allowing forced entry onto private property to kill their frogs. Of course, this anti- coqui ranting has the potential to depress tourism and property values if it continues, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, coqui ecotourism could bring tourist dollars into Hawaii. With frog populations declining worldwide, Hawaii is now one of the few remaining places where frogs can thrive. As people start to realize that this is one planet, and that it is under attack by human folly, perhaps Hawaii will stop attacking the coqui and embrace it as a fortunate survivor on a planet where frogs are disappearing like the dinosaurs.
In the final analysis, the choice is between war or peace. Between hatred and intolerance, or acceptance and co-existence. Between wasting money that only enriches coqui eradicators, or opening up a new opportunity for coqui commerce. For those in Hawaii who already have coquis and have come to love them, the answer is clear. For those who wish the coqui never came to Hawaii, consider this: If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
Sydney Ross Singer, a biologist and medical anthropologist, recently began operating a "coqui sanctuary and preserve" near the Puna Coast on the Big Island, where ecotourists can hear the frogs' chirping during evening tours or overnight stays.