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Second bait drop over Lehua Island completed

LIHUE — The second drop of rodenticide on Lehua Island happened Wednesday.

And while state officials are hailing both of the poisoned bait drops a success, some Kauai community members are closely watching the water, and are still concerned about impacts to the environment.

“I saw the poison filled helicopters flying over Pakala Bay this morning, going out to Lehua. I just shook my head,” said Gordon LaBedz, of the whale conservation group Kohola Leo and a member of Surfrider Kauai.

He continued: “Lehua is so far offshore, only the fishing boats will see if anything noticeably bad happens. I am anxious to read a scientific report on how the rats fared through this poison bombing.”

The first application happened on Aug. 23, and the 284-acre island was blanketed with thousands of bait pellets containing cereals and the restricted use pesticide diphacinone.

Prior to the first drop, field teams captured about two dozen rats and attached onto them radio tracking collars, according to representatives from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“So far, one quarter of these rats have perished by consuming lethal amounts of bait,” representatives from the DLNR said in a Wednesday news release about the project. “In addition, a significant number of un-collared rats have perished.”

As with the first helicopter application, this second application began at first light on Wednesday and was complete in about three hours, the release said.

It’s the second of three scheduled bait drops, spread over 18 days, and the project’s aim is to eliminate rats from Lehua Island and populate the rock with native plant species and birds.

The overall goal is to create a seabird sanctuary on the island, which is a traditional nesting site for several seabird species, including native and endangered species.

Bait pellets were distributed by a modified agricultural hopper attached to a helicopter and were applied to the island in swaths, with the helicopter reloading fuel and bait on Ni’ihau.

The poisoned pellets fell into the near-shore environment as well as onto the other parts of Lehua Island, causing concern for fishermen and conservationists because of the potential for it to affect marine life.

State and federal permits and regulations allow some bait to drift into near-shore marine waters, DLNR representatives said in their release.

Since the Aug. 23 bait drop, on-island monitoring has been ongoing by a team from Island Conservation, the nonprofit organization partnering with DLNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the project.

“We regularly walk the shoreline and spend quite a bit of time under the waves making observations,” said Mele Khalsa, the island restoration specialist for Island Conservation who is monitoring the project. “So far all we have seen is healthy and vibrant sea life.”

Khalsa also reported “Lehua’s birds are doing great.”

Applications have been happening under the eyes of inspectors from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to ensure rule compliance.

On the ground now that the first two drops have been completed, Khalsa’s team will continue to trap rats and all of the rats trapped show signs of bait consumption, according to DLNR.

The third and final rodenticide aerial application is scheduled for Sept. 9, depending on weather conditions.

Carl Berg, with the Surfrider Kauai Blue Water Task Force said he appreciates the public’s concern. He’s been monitoring the timing of the drops with incoming rain and wind.

“(I) see that this is being done on a strong scientific basis and in a most professional way,” Berg said. “Weather concerns have been addressed and the project looks as if it is proceeding safely.”

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