Recently, Department of Agriculture Chair Scott Enright announced that the intended aerial drop of diphacinone pesticide on Lehua by the Department of Natural Resources and US Fish and Wildlife Service would not go forth as scheduled.
The decision was preceded by a strong letter urging caution and more deliberation, sent by west Kauai State Rep. Dee Morikawa to Mr. Enright and DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, and copied to Governor David Ige.
Morikawa rekindles the possibility that Hawaii can come up with more innovative, less toxic approaches to the protection and survival of species than an aerial drop of approximately 11.5 tons of the anticoagulant pesticide, diphacinone, through a large, swinging bucket in winds up to 35 mph across the entire island.
Under the plan, diphacinone would also be aerially dropped below the high tide mark and into the waters along Lehua’s entire coast. Up until 2007, it was illegal to apply diphacinone “directly to water” and “to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark” due to its high toxicity to aquatic life.
Lehua’s ecosystem is a Hawaii treasure, linked through land and marine food webs where the poisoning or exposure of one species has the potential of moving through the food chain (with the possible result of “secondary poisoning”) with unknown longterm consequences. These interdependencies are largely under-researched.
Lehua is not only a seabird sanctuary. It is also a legally designated State Wildlife Sanctuary and Conservation District harboring federally protected and endangered monk seals, green sea turtles, and three species of birds, all protected under the Endangered Species Act. Lehua’s marine waters also harbor at least one rare species of coral, dolphins, manta rays, and migrations of humpback whales. Coral systems are plentiful there.
The importance of a comprehensive study of a range of alternatives will now be key. Instead of dismissing alternatives summarily (as they were in the state and federal Final EA’s), in-depth, seriously considered, solution-oriented feasibility studies on a range of less harmful alternatives are required.
With the right scientific advisors, including knowledgeable members of our westside community, our state agencies can develop approaches that protect species within a delicate, interdependent ecosystem, not only migratory birds to the potential detriment of other endangered and threatened species.
Perhaps the solution will lie in not one, but several approaches that may be more gradual and more realistically sustainable in the longterm.
Given the inconclusive deaths of two whales and a large-scale fish die-off following the failed 2009 diphacinone drop, the incentive for finding alternatives to the aerial drop of pesticides in Lehua’s waters is even greater.
The Final EA expressly states that it does not contain any research on the effect of diphacinone on whales, dolphins and other cetacean species. Even the former Pesticide Branch head in 2009 directed his staff “not to issue aerial application permits that might result in pellets entering into marine ecosystems until the EPA develops study protocols for such ecosystems.”
As fishers, cultural gatherers and Niihauans, our lives are deeply intertwined with the ecosystems supported on and around Lehua. At a public meeting held at Waimea Neighborhood Center on July 25, 2017, our Westside community expressed our frustration and demanded that our knowledge be reflected in the ultimate restoration plan for the ecosystems of Lehua. This has not happened thusfar.
We hope that Rep. Morikawa’s stance on inclusion and alternatives is unwavering, and that together we will find a better way forward that acknowledges the linked fate of our ecosystems and our island’s people.
This consensus statement was submitted to The Garden Island by 50 Kauai residents: Henry Albarado, Ainsley Hori, Jacob Kanahele, James H. Largo, James M. Largo, Nelson Togioka, Mark Oyama, Benjamin Domingo Jr., Vernon Kaohelauli‘i, Wayne Allianic, Loke Dusenberry, Kelli Beeman, Ward Nicole, Roger Maeda, Harold Vidinha, Jim A‘ana, John A‘ana, Kevin Vidinha, Gavin Peralta, Travis Koga, Dennis Stoner, Niko Lemaio, Kevin Higa, Bren Nakaahiki, Nohili Doria, Ryan Hanohano, Kalani Kapuniai, Jimmy Nakaahiki, Wesley Yadao, Richard Arakaki, Kawena Warren, Myron Arakaki, Darrick Akita, Kawaihoola Currnan, Tom Matsuyoshi, Christal Ogawa, Jace Schacfer, Tyson Yadao, Raymond Yadao, Nolan Ramos, Nori Montemaeyor, Talia Kona, Rita Ramos, Darrin Ramos, Ronson Arakaki, Mel Wills, Calvin Kajiwara, Kira Rivera, Piilani Alabilla, Klayford Nakaahiki, Nicole Schwartzkopf, Chris Zenger, Nathan Kirsch.