Fellow Story

Mosquito control plan to save forest birds in Hawaiʻi builds on Network Innovation grant outcomes

In March 2023, The Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) unanimously approved a mosquito suppression plan in the forests of east Maui with the goal of protecting endangered forest birds from extinction due to avian malaria, a fatal mosquito-borne disease.  

Avian malaria is the primary cause for the dramatic decline for six remaining species of Hawaiian honeycreepers: ʻiʻiwi, Maui ʻalauahio, Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi, ʻapapane, kikiwiu, and ʻākohekohe. For critically endangered species, like kiwikiu and ʻākohekohe, the increasing presence of invasive mosquitoes has put them on a trajectory for extinction within the next two to ten years.

The plan proposes using a proven method known as Incompatible Insect Technique (ITT) to control invasive mosquitoes in the forests to reduce the incidence of avian malaria, which is fatal. IIT has been used successfully worldwide to limit the human health impacts of mosquitoes and to reduce populations of the southern house mosquito, which spread avian malaria. The technique uses a naturally-occurring bacteria called Wolbachia. Male mosquitoes, with an incompatible strain of Wolbachia bacteria, are released to mate with wild female mosquitoes that lay eggs that do not hatch. The result is much smaller populations of mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes do not bite and cannot spread diseases.

In 2018, Switzer Fellows Jonathan Likeke Scheuer, Brett Keitt and Jason Delborne collaborated to develop a community engagement strategy to engage local Hawaiian communities in this issue and potential solution through a Switzer Network Innovation grant awarded to the American Bird Conservancy. Scheuer reflected on this important step forward and his history with the project on LinkedIn:

"I have had the honor of working on this project in various capacities since 2017 with an excellent partnership now known as Birds, Not Mosquitoes. All the partners who have been working on this effort deserve credit.

I especially want to give a special shout out to my client the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). My fellow Switzer Fellow Brad Keitt approached me in 2017 when this idea was in its infancy, and ABC rightly recognized that meaningful community engagement had to be integrated into the process at the outset. ... 

Friday's vote by the BLNR, while one significant step, is only part of the journey we are on. The success so far in part reflects the years of commitment, effort and investment by ABC to seek that this project not only is approved, but supported and embraced by the very communities it is seeking to serve and protect."

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