The Maui News

MAUI, Hawaii (April 2) – The Hawaiian islands have a serious problem with alien species on land and in the ocean. Eradicating these species is a long-term, very expensive proposition. The most effective way of safeguarding the islands is to prevent the alien species from arriving.

As the crossroads of the Pacific, the islands are a hub of transportation from the world’s far corners, each of them capable of harboring species that could multiply disastrously in Hawaii’s benevolent conditions. A native species invariably has some predator or other control on its numbers. Put that species in some place without predators or natural controls and it’s an invitation to unchecked multiplication.

The latest alien species alert comes, again, from Guam, which has been overrun by the non-native brown tree snake. Air and sea connections between Guam and the islands are firm and frequent. In addition to inadequate inspections of arriving aircraft and even less effective inspections of ocean cargo, state officials have relied too heavily on the federal government to keep the brown tree snake from stowing away in Guam.

Federal budget cuts endanger the Guam end of the brown tree snake program. It appears that members of Congress have better things to do with the $2 million that would have been appropriated for the snake-searching program on Guam.

Relying on others to safeguard the islands’ environment is dodgy at best. Although the state Department of Transportation is building long overdue inspection facilities at the Kahului Airport, there are too many open doors for alien species. Cargo ships at Kahului Harbor routinely unload vehicles and containers that could carry invasive species of all sorts. Then there is the danger of marine species being carried into Hawaiian waters by transoceanic cruise liner bilges and ballast tanks.

It is impossible to cordon off the islands, but given a public will, the state – principally the Department of Agriculture – should be doing a much better job of keeping the doors closed. Economic interests dictate speedy inspections that cannot be done with current systems.

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