An important part of conserving the unique, natural beauty of our islands is working diligently to protect against invasive species. Invasive species threaten native species that are not accustomed to defending themselves against foreign intruders.
Non-native algae suffocate coral reefs while mongoose prey on native birds, small mammals, reptiles, insects, and plants. Mongoose pose a particular threat to endangered sea turtles and our state bird, the nene.
Most residents are all too familiar with another intruder, the coqui frog from Puerto Rico that, in addition to producing an incessant and irritating mating call, has decimated native insect populations and disrupted the natural balance of our ecosystems.
These examples are just a few of the many invasive species that have made their way to Hawaii and wreaked havoc on native plants and animals. Now, yet another pest – the brown tree snake – is poised to invade the islands.
For decades, the brown tree snake has harassed native species on Guam, pushing some – including nine species of birds and half of its lizards – to extinction. Native species lack the ability to defend against the predator, and, with no natural enemies, the brown tree snake population has flourished.
Once a sneaky stowaway on cargo ships during World War II, the snake has become a nasty nightmare for Guam, causing frequent power outages and millions of dollars in damages annually. Failure to eradicate the menace is not for lack of trying. Guam spends $5 million per year on elimination and containment efforts. According to Stars and Stripes, drugged mice have even been dropped from helicopters in the hopes that the tree snake would take the bait.
Concerned that the menace may make its way to Hawaii, over the years officials have taken steps to prevent its entry. Search dogs inspect Guam’s outgoing cargo and “Rapid Response” teams have been trained in Guam to be prepared to respond to brown snake sightings in Hawaii.
But a planned United States military build up in Guam has fueled fears and increased the potential risk of spreading the snake to other islands, including ours. Not only would introduction of the snake cause chaos to the environment and native species, it would also lead to extreme economic problems. Medical costs to treat victim’s of the snake’s venom, decreased productivity due to power outages, and a loss of tourist dollars could, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cost the state anywhere from $594 million to $2.14 billion annually.
In order to prevent this nightmare from becoming a reality, both Hawaii and Guam must do everything they can to keep the brown tree snake contained. Unfortunately, recent budget cuts have meant protection program cutbacks, at a time when we need them most.
A Micronesian Bio-security Plan to protect the region from additional invasive species is in the works. But as an April deadline for the plan was missed, residents have begun to wonder if the Bio-security plan – and the protection it promises – will arrive before the brown tree snake does.