4 August 2023

Hawaii’s battle against biodiversity loss

The devastating wildfires of the last few weeks are just the latest challenge Hawaiians have faced, in their mission to protect biodiversity.
Hawaii’s battle against biodiversity loss

The devastating wildfires of the last few weeks are just the latest challenge Hawaiians have faced, in their mission to protect biodiversity.

Like its island cousin New Zealand, Hawaii is home to some incredible wildlife that's spent millions of years evolving without predators. And like New Zealand, some incredible conservation groups are doing everything they can to yank that biodiversity out of the jaws of habitat loss, invasive species and climate change.

Keep reading to meet a bunch of amazing humans giving Mother Nature a hand on Oahu and Kaua’i, with a bit of help from Goodnature.

Pulling Hawaii's Honeycreepers back from the brink of extinction

Hawaii's honeycreepers are a fascinating flock of songbirds that made Hawaii their tropical paradise millions of years ago. They boast colourful plumage and specialised beaks, which have evolved to suit their specific feeding habits, including nectar extraction, seed cracking, and insect probing.

Besides being stunning creatures, these birds play a vital role in Hawaii's ecosystems as important pollinators and seed dispersers, contributing to the health and diversity of native plants. But as history sadly repeats itself worldwide, many species are now critically endangered or already extinct, due to habitat loss, avian malaria and of course invasive species

Rats, mongooses and feral pigs have wreaked havoc on Hawaiian ecosystems.

While rats were brought unintentionally, the Small Indian Mongoose was introduced on purpose to manage rat populations in sugar cane plantations. Now, these unwanted creatures have taken up residence on nearly every island except Kaua'i and Lanai.

Both mongooses and rats have splendidly adapted and survived and are now feasting upon native birds and their eggs, a lot of them nesting on the ground. As if that wasn't enough, the rising temperatures caused by climate change have created an opportunity for invasive southern house mosquitoes to move to higher grounds honeycreepers call home. These mosquitoes feed on the birds and spread avian malaria, leaving the honeycreepers vulnerable to its effects, having lost whatever resistance their mainland ancestors had to the disease.

Conversation groups are in a race against time to save Hawaiian honeycreepers, with groups like Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project and Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project throwing every tool they have at it. Captive honeycreeper breeding and reintroduction programmes are playing a crucial role, as are the creation of protected areas and biological corridors. Trapping networks are also playing a crucial role in safeguarding the remaining honeycreepers from mongoose and rats. The Goodnature team have worked closely with these groups, supplying not just our traps but also our trapping expertise.

Protecting Kauai's native birds in tough terrain

Kaua'i is known as the "Garden Isle," for its breathtaking natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. At one point, 16 forest bird species were found on Kaua'i, but now, only eight remain, six of which are unique to Kaua'i: 'Akeke'e, 'Akikiki, 'Anianiau, 'Amakihi, Kaua’i ‘Elepaio and Puaihoi.

The Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project is a collaborative program focused on research and conservation of three endangered birds found on Kaua’i: 'akikiki, 'akeke'e, and puaiohi. But their conservation efforts also have positive ripple effects on other native species. Among their various actions, the project aims to control the population of Rattus rattus (also known as Ship rat or black rat) and Rattus exulans (also known as Polynesian rat).

Trapping on Kaua’i is extremely complex as explained by Justin Hite, Field Supervisor for Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project “Field logistics at our sites are incredibly challenging due to complex and dangerous terrain, thick forests, labyrinths of chasms, and huge amounts of rain”. Helicopter flights are often required to access remote areas and cost around $1,000 an hour, which makes the case for Goodnature’s self-resetting traps and their inherent reduction in time and labour costs.

"The project turned to Goodnature traps as they proved invaluable due to the complex terrain we're dealing with. The use of Goodnature traps enabled the team to set traps for an extended period, reducing the need for frequent visits to remote locations," says Hite.

But our traps weren’t a silver bullet from the get-go.

Getting the Goodnature trap lines up and running safely demanded in-depth knowledge of the terrain and the native wildlife. The team at Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project initially experienced the accidental death of six critically endangered puaiohi in Goodnature traps, but they persevered and learned to adapt the traps to their specific conditions and wildlife by adding blockers to reduce the risk to non-target species. “Although we can't be sure if it has affected the traps' effectiveness against rats, we haven't experienced any more bird casualties since making the changes” says Hite.

Dealing with feral pigs presented another challenge as they frequently knocked the traps off. The team had to use heavy-duty zip ties to secure them in place. Now with growing knowledge and experience, the team firmly believes that Goodnature traps are still the best solution for their unique situation and have 300 traps deployed in this fragile ecosystem.

Saving Oahu's largest wetland from mongoose

Oahu is the third largest and most populous Hawaiian island, earning the nickname "the Gathering Place" as it became a central hub for political, religious, and economic activities in the 19th century, with its capital known nowadays as Honolulu.

Similar to Kaua’i, Oahu's native bird species evolved without natural predators and nest on the ground, making them super vulnerable to mongoose attacks. Efforts to control the mongoose population on Oahu have been challenging due to their elusive nature and adaptability to various habitats, but that’s where Kawai Nui Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary comes in. Situated in Kailua in the heart of Oahu, this sanctuary is a remarkable natural refuge spanning around 800 acres. Standing as one of the largest wetland areas in the state, it serves as a protected haven for over 130 bird species, including the endangered Hawaiian stilt / Ae'o and Hawaiian coot / 'Alae ke'oke'o, who find solace and breeding grounds within the marsh's reedy shallows and wet grasslands.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources turned to Goodnature to start the Kawai Nui Marsh Mongoose Control Project. “Together, we developed a network of tracking tunnels and A18 traps, to test a methodology” explains Darren Peters, Goodnature Head of Ecology & Trapping Expert.

Staff from the Oahu Natural Resource Program came to support the set up of 50 traps around a swamp where access for us humans is difficult but not for mongoose who feast on the many ground-nesting birds that are present.

The nature of the area makes it difficult to access and check the traps on a regular basis.

Goodnature's automatic and self-resetting traps were therefore the best option for reducing time and labour costs while ensuring constant mongoose control. Although mongooses are incredibly interactive and curious to check the traps once they are set, they are also extremely fast. "We have to place the trap in the exact position to strike the mongoose humanely. The trigger on the A18 only moves up and down, not sideways like the trigger on the A24, so the mongoose is perfectly placed where the striker hits."

After setting the traps, they were monitored for a week, showing multiple mongoose kills every day, although the figures are thought to be higher, with some dead mongooses being scavenged by feral pigs.  After eight days, tracking tunnels were installed and showed a significant drop in the number of sightings, from 58% to 8%. This successful result confirmed the methodology they had come to test and will enable Kawai Nui Mongoose Control staff to establish larger networks to protect wider areas.

Exporting New Zealand conservation to the world

Goodnature’s self-resetting traps once stuck out as a sore thumb, but they’re becoming a far more common sight both out in the wild, not just here at home, but in backyards, farms and conservation projects around the world, and we couldn’t be prouder. Conservation is New Zealand’s national pastime, and we hope these projects in Hawaii are the start of us exporting that pastime to the world.

Goodnature proudly stands alongside conservation projects around the world, not just by supplying products but also giving time and sharing our expertise on-site. Our traps have proved to be invaluable in conservation efforts, providing an effective and sustainable tool for managing invasive species while minimizing harm to native wildlife.

To further support these conservation efforts, we launched our Cahoot initiative in 2021. For every trap purchased by a conservation group, we offer a second trap, accelerating the pace of biodiversity recovery. Currently available in New Zealand only, we hope to expand this initiative to other countries in the coming years, fostering faster and more impactful outcomes for the benefit of all.

Find out more about Cahoot here.