Tuesday, October 2, 2001

EPA approves
plan to fight frogs
with caffeine

Officials want to use it
to control noisy coqui

By Rosemarie Bernardo

PUERTO RICO native Bambi D'Olier grew up with the sound of coqui frogs as they chirped throughout the night. But as a 30-year resident of Hawaii, all D'Olier wants is silence.

"I look forward to hearing it in Puerto Rico, but I wouldn't want it to where we lose our quiet nights," said D'Olier, a Waialae Iki resident. "It would be gone forever."

The state said yesterday it has U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval to use a caffeine spray to kill the noisy coqui frogs.

The coqui -- pronounced co-KEE in imitation of its shriek -- have populated more than 150 areas on the Big Island. They have also been discovered on Oahu, Maui and Kauai. Up to a foot away, the mating call of a male coqui frog can reach up to the decibel level of 90 to 100, making it comparable to the noise made by a lawnmower, table saw or helicopter.

Hawaii's efforts to control the shrieking frogs have sparked outrage in Puerto Rico, where residents consider the amphibians a national symbol.

But D'Olier, who said the frogs are not in her area, applauded the EPA approval.

"I support all efforts to eradicate coqui frogs. ... They're very prolific," she said.

Some Hawaii residents are concerned about the effects on the environment of the pesticide, with high concentrations of caffeine mixed with water.

Cathy Breth of Leilani Estates in South Hilo supports the use of caffeine to control coqui frogs but wonders about the use and effectiveness of the pesticide.

"If it's strong enough to kill a frog, is it going to affect people or domestic animals?" Breth asked.

According to the state, the EPA allowed the state Department of Agriculture to use the spray on the frogs. Individual homeowners are not allowed to use it because of risks associated with its use. Those susceptible to caffeine include children under the age of 2, pregnant women, children taking medication for asthma or an attention deficit disorder, and individuals who have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or circulatory problems.

Breth, who said coqui frogs have driven her to take sleeping pills, said, "I'm living in a place where they're extremely loud."

Bob Boesch, pesticide program manager of the Agricultural Department, said a program will be implemented to monitor the effects on nontarget organisms.

"It's an important tool to control frogs," said Boesch. "It will be used judiciously because of the cost involved."

The EPA approval required an exemption from the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The state Agricultural Department requested the exemption after tests administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated caffeine was an effective agent to kill coqui frogs.

From January to May, more than 60 frogs were found in Wahiawa, and 20 in Kahaluu. Eleven more were found in Wahiawa Heights in August, said Donovan Dela Cruz, Wahiawa Neighborhood Board chairman.

"Something does need to done," said Dela Cruz.

Instructions on restrictions and use of the pesticide will be disclosed this week by the state Agriculture Department, Boesch said.

State officials are discussing how to isolate treated areas, Boesch said. "You have to keep people off the area for 24 hours," he said.

Wahiawa resident Roberto Sosa disagreed with the EPA's decision.

"I think this is ridiculous," said Sosa, born and raised in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

"We don't have to take this measure. I know we can find another way to control the coqui without killing. Killing is not the remedy."

Sosa said when he first moved to Hawaii in 1998, he was irritated by the clicking sounds of the gecko. As time passed he became accustomed to the sound.

"I know the people of Hawaii will like it (coqui) someday, too," Sosa said.

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