March Letters to the Editor

Defining ‘Quality’

While I found your recent cover story [“Visitor Quality Over Quantity,” March 2023] interesting, I resent the notion that wealthier tourists equal “quality.” Do we really want an island that caters only to rich people who flock to the golf courses and mega resorts? Is that “quality” for most of us kama‘āina?

– Jeff Kahale, Kahului

For the Birds

I am the Avian Disease Research Supervisor for Hawaiʻi Island DOFAW. I study the distribution and intensity of avian malaria in bird and mosquito populations on Hawai’i Island. And your article about Incompatible Insect Technique was rife with misinformation about the ecology and working details of this critical biological control option. [“The Scourge of Avian Malaria,” March 2023]. Please print a retraction or correction of the article and consult with DLNR/DOFAW or Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project in the future to prevent such a damaging spread of misinformation. This is a critical conservation issue—birds are going extinct this year due to the exacerbated spread of avian malaria in their habitats—and the public deserves to be truthfully informed. 

Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreepers are particularly susceptible to avian malaria. Courtesy Flickr / USFWS

Here are the issues I saw that need to be corrected. Firstly, the bird pictured in the article is a Palila, not a Kiwikiu (Maui Parrotbill). Palila are also critically endangered, but they are only found on Hawai’i Island and actually avian malaria is not their main threat (habitat loss and predation are driving them to extinction, and there are estimated to be less than 600 left in the wild). 

Secondly, the tiger mosquito pictured is of a different genus (Aedes) than the one that spreads avian malaria, the Southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus). Tiger mosquitoes spread human disease, such as dengue, so they are also important to control but not relevant to the avian malaria story. 

Lastly, mongoose and axis deer were not introduced as conservation actions, and therefore not carefully researched and passed through regulatory and legislative channels. IIT in Hawaiʻi is undergoing a careful and thorough vetting process to ensure there is no damage to the health of Hawai’i’s people or environment. If you wanted to discuss other biocontrols, there are many examples of successful or neutral attempts in Hawai’i. Why not focus on the recent story of wiliwili trees being saved by the introduction of the natural predator of the gall wasp, rather than mammals that were introduced in the 1800s without any regulations by people who were not biologists? The comparison to mongoose and axis deer introductions is massively damaging and uninformed at best.  

I’m sure your publication can do better. The fate of Hawaiʻi’s critically endangered birds depends on it. Mahalo.

– Cara Thow, Avian Disease Research Supervisor, Hawai‘i Island DOFAW

Editor’s Note: Mahalo for your feedback. We regret the misidentification of the captions and have corrected the errors online. You make many valid points and we appreciate your expertise on the subject. The mention of mongoose and axis deer, you’ll note, included the caveat “for sport.” As for the article being biased against native bird conservation, we’ll point you to the story’s final line, “these native birds are precious. Their calls and flashing colors help define the island. And once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

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