(LEHUA ISLAND) – “100% success,” is how a researcher with Island Conservation describes this week’s non-lethal bait experiment on this small island, 17 miles west of Kauai, just off the northern tip of Niihau. State, federal, and non-profit partners conducted helicopter application of bait that is non-toxic, which they hope will ultimately lead to the use of rodent bait to eliminate Lehua’s rat population. Invasive rats are the primary predator of three federally-listed and/or endangered and threatened candidate seabird species that could establish breeding colonies on Lehua. Newell’s shearwaters, Hawaiian petrel, and the Band-rumped storm petrel may have been nesting there prior to the introduction of rats and rabbits. Rabbits have been eradicated from the island.
Joshua Atwood the invasive species coordinator with the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) explains, “This was a trial run; a chance to fly a helicopter over Lehua and drop non-toxic bait onto the island. This is the same formulation we’d use in a rodent-control project, except it didn’t have rodenticide in the mix at all. This will give us a better understanding of where rodents are on Lehua and now they interact with the food web and threaten the endangered birds.”
The research last week has the objective of determining bait availability. Island Conservation’s Hawaii Program project manager MJ Mazurek was thrilled with the success of the helicopter drops. She went onto explain what happens next, “We set up bait availability plots, where we’ll look at the availability of bait over a specific period of time. The way a rodenticide works, is you need to have a series of feedings and have the bait available for that time period, so that the toxicant can do its job.”
Island Conservation is leading the research, as its mission is to prevent extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. Alex Wegmann, the non-profit’s Hawaii Program manager commented, “On Lehua, we have the opportunity to create the largest predator-free habitat for threatened and endangered seabirds anywhere in Hawaii. Lehua is roughly 360 acres and when it becomes predator free it can serve as critical breeding and nesting habitat for the three endangered seabird species, as well as for others.”
The results last week’s aerial application will provide guidance for the potential development of a project to use a rodenticide to control Lehua’s invasive rat population. The project would be at least one year out.
“We would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Robinson’s and the people of Niihau in helping to develop this research methodology,” said Leimana DaMate, executive director of the Aha Moku Advisory Committee, attached to DLNR.
In addition to DLNR and Island Conservation other project and funding partners include; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bell Laboratories, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
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“Creating a predator-free Lehua” video-
HD Media clips and interviews-(shot sheet and transcription attached)
High resolution photographs-
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