Hawaii Needs to Give Creatures a Fair Chance

The allure of The Hawaiian Islands lies in its rare, naturally occurring flora and fauna. Species live on islands so isolated from the rest of the world that they have not developed their natural defense mechanisms as thoroughly as species that exist elsewhere. When Hawaiian plants and animals have to compete against foreign pests they do not fare well. In order to save their ecosystem, the Hawaiian government has made it illegal for outsiders to import harmful organisms, and have non-threatening species quarantined, before entering the islands. Despite government efforts, pests have still invaded the islands. Hawaiians plan to solve the problem of invasive species by evaluating each imported species instead of completely banning all species importation.

Hawaii’s geographic location has protected its environment from outside species which caused the native species to evolve uniquely. When Europeans and Americans found the islands, they made the introduction of invasive species possible. As Mintz notes in “The Huddled Masses: Migration and Disease,” the first invasive species were diseases the outsiders carried and had developed immunities to. The islanders succumbed to the new diseases in the same way the rest of their secluded environment would fall to non-native species of flora and fauna. Connecting Hawaii to the rest of the world made the danger to the natives both possible and real.

Out of fear of losing the natural ecosystem, Hawaii implemented a faulty solution to the invasive species problem. Hawaii forbade bringing in most new species and quarantining non-threatening species before being allowed to live on the islands. The declaration assumed that if no new species were introduced, then invasive species could not inhabit the islands. A problem exists because it does not account for species that can sneak in such as insects or seeds. Hawaiian customs failed to detect yellow jackets living with Christmas trees allowing the yellow jackets to make it to the islands. Similarly, invasive seeds can attach themselves to a tourists clothes before the person comes to the island, and the seeds could fall off while the tourist travels around Hawaii. It is unlikely that customs would detect seeds on the clothing of the visitors, so invasive plants have a way of invading the quarantined islands. In order to determine how many invasive plants are growing in Hawaii, a group of scientists with the Department of Botany at the University of Hawaii and the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry did a study and found “more than 1000 introduced plants have become naturalized to some degree.” Ultimately, new species will inhabit the island despite the preventative measures taken.

Isolating the islands removes any possibility of controlling the species on the islands. In order to better control the environment, the creatures inhabiting the land must first be identified as invasive or not. Hawaiians are implementing a method of identification fabricated in Australia and New Zealand that proved helpful in protecting both nations’ natural environments. The weed risk-assessment (WRA) in Australia compiled a list of every species of serious weed in Australia. New Zealand later adopted Australia’s WRA to much success. The WRA is a series of questions posed about each species, and if enough questions prove true for the species it is determined to be invasive. Hawaiian scientists took the Australian and New Zealand WRA, changed four of the 49 questions to better fit Hawaii’s tropical climate, and screened 192 plants planted for landscaping and forestry in the Pacific that had existed on Hawaii for the last 50 years. By screening the plants with the WRA, the scientists identified the invasive species. Implementing this screening system allowed the island to identify the harmful species, which was the first step in controlling the species. In the future, legislation can be made to control their presence on the islands. Controlling an invasive species will maintain the natural ecosystem as best as it can while acknowledging of the impossibility of completely keeping them off the islands.

Hawaii’s screening solution was helpful, but flawed. The two main issues with the screening solution were that scientists conducted the experiment on species already assimilated into Hawaii’s ecosystem and that the scientists had only tested plants. In the future, a screening system should be developed for animals, and the screening should include the species people want to introduce to the islands but have not yet brought in. Screening outside species would determine if they would bring harm to the environment or if they could potentially help the environment. Using the screening system for plants and animals would allow nature to work more naturally, as opposed to being manipulated by humans, by protecting the already existing, fragile ecosystem.

A total ban of all new species is not practical. In fact, new species implementation may help the environment. Mosquitoes exemplify a non-native creature that could be introduced to help eradicate an invasive species. Mosquitoes can spread avian flu among birds. Genetic researcher Guy Reeves, PhD, believes that introducing mosquitoes with genetic modifications that prevent the spread of avian malaria would help save native endangered bird species by mating with the normal mosquitoes and producing offspring with the preventative genes. Reeves also suggests releasing sterile males to prevent females from producing offspring, or eliminating feral pigs from the islands because “the feral pigs [another invasive species] feeding creates pools of water where mosquitoes breed,” and his fourth suggestion is giving the wild animals food with traces of drugs non-lethal to the animals but fatal to the mosquitoes. All four of Reeves solutions would rid the islands of at least one harmful species. Each action requires identifying the species, so screening is a necessary step to better protect the Hawaiian Islands environment.

Hawaii’s environment is beautiful and unique. The environment is in danger of being completely eradicated, so it must be protected. Pest species will ruin the Hawaiian Islands’ natural beauty by destroying the native creatures. Unfortunately, it is impossible to completely quarantine an area, especially with regular human traffic. Instead of attempting to control nature via isolation, the scientists seeking to preserve the environment must work the same way nature works. Determining which outside species could destroy the environment, finding the harmful species already on the island, and keeping both off the island is the best way to protect Hawaii’s ecosystem.

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dylanDylan Walsh is a math major who, when he is not doing school work, paints, draws, or does improv comedy. He enjoys expressing himself on stage, with his friends, in a humorous way. Dylan believes in being positive in any circumstance, and improv comedy has helped him realize this.