'apapane on 'ōhiʻa © Jim Denny
Birds, Not Mosquitoes (BNM) is a collaboration of State, Federal, and private, non-profit partners evaluating the potential for control of mosquitoes on a landscape-scale in Hawaiʻi.
Specifically, the purpose of BNM is to coordinate and advance efforts to develop, permit, test and register for conservation for use as a biopesticide a Hawaiian strain of Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito carrying the Wolbachia bacteria that leads to population suppression and reduces disease prevalence in native forest birds.
BNM includes representatives from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaiʻi Department of Health, US Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Hawaiʻi, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, American Bird Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi, Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, and Island Conservation.
In its efforts to advance the potential for landscape-scale mosquito control, BNM is also partnering with the Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project, Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, University of Kentucky, and Michigan State University.
The project is funded in part by the American Bird Conservancy, Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council.
Introducing Wolbachia mosquitoes to Hawaiʻi is a multi-step process that requires review and permission from state and federal agencies.
Below is a description of the steps that must be taken before Wolbachia mosquitoes could be utilized in efforts to save our native forest birds, and how can the public provide input during the process.
Federal and state agencies play key roles in helping us decide whether Wolbachia mosquitoes should be used to protect our native forest birds. The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture (HDOA) regulates the importation of animals and microorganisms, and the use of pesticides in the state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees registration of new pesticides.
The purpose of releasing sterile male mosquitoes in Hawaiʻi is to reduce the number of these disease-carrying insects in our forests; this makes the trans-infected Wolbachia mosquitoes a “biopesticide.” Biopesticides use naturally-occurring microorganisms, such as the Wolbachia bacteria. Biopesticides are regulated by the EPA. 7 U.S.C. §136 et seq. (1996).
Many people find biopesticides to be a safer alternative to the use of toxic chemicals. Before EPA will approve a biopesticide for use, an applicant must submit information about the mode of action (how it will work) along with scientific data on its efficacy and safety, including potential environmental impacts. These data are typically obtained through an Experimental Use Permit (EUP).
Experimental Use Permit
Wolbachia mosquitoes are currently being used on the mainland, but only for certain states, and only for Aedes aegypti, not the mosquito species that harms native Hawaiian birds, Culex quinquefasciatus.
Before any release of Wolbachia mosquitoes occurs in Hawaiʻi, the product (Wolbachia-infected males) must be field tested to show it will work. An EUP, issued by the EPA, must be obtained to authorize studies to show that the project can reduce the number of mosquitoes produced.
Importing Microorganisms to Hawaiʻi
After an EUP has been approved by the EPA, there are still state requirements. Even though the Wolbachia bacteria is present in nearly half of our insect species, including native Hawaiian insects, re-importing the Wolbachia strain into the state requires a permit from HDOA. HRS §150A-6.3.
The permit application requires the applicant to describe the reason for the introduction, persons responsible, locations where the microorganism will be kept, methods for disposal, and potential environmental impacts.
Aren’t mosquitoes already in Hawaiʻi?! Yes! But introducing any mosquito into the state, even a species already present, requires a special permit, both for importation and possession. Permit requirements are similar to those for importing microorganisms.
Both HDOA and EPA have public notification processes about importation and biopesticide regulation. If you are interested in following the process, be sure to add your contact information to our list to stay informed.
A decision on whether to release Wolbachia mosquitoes into the forests of Hawai'i will only be made after substantial community engagement and input.