Mosquito birth control plan to save native birds from extinction under state consideration
At a meeting on June 9, the state Plant and Animal Advisory Committee will consider taking steps to further a collective plan to introduce mosquito birth control to try to save four native bird species from extinction in Hawai’i.
Contrary to misinformation circulating on social media, the importation of “incompatible-male” mosquitoes to control populations of wild mosquitoes does not involve the use of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) organisms, according to a news release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The advisory committee, which operates under the state Department of Agriculture, on Thursday will consider listing three species of mosquitoes that already are present in Hawaiʻi on its Restricted Species List A. The listing would allow the importation of “incompatible -male” mosquitos of three species to try to stop avian malaria from killing the last remaining populations of endangered birds in Hawaiʻi and to curb the transmission of human diseases. They are:
- The Southern House Mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus), which is responsible for sharp declines in the populations of many honeycreeper species on Maui, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island and can transmit human diseases
- Yellow Fever Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus), which both transmit human diseases
The meeting will be held June 9 at 1:30 p.m. in Honolulu. But it can be watched online at https://zoom.us/j/98390028091. For the meeting agenda and information on how to listen, click here. More information about the issue is available here.
The plan to use mosquito birth control was created by a collection of agencies and organizations working under the Birds, Not Mosquitoes partnership. Some of the endangered bird populations have fewer than 100 individuals in the wild and are expected to go extinct in less than two years unless something can be done to reverse it.
The birth control method uses male mosquitoes (which do not bite) with a strain of a bacterium called Wolbachia that is incompatible with the strain of Wolbachia currently found in wild mosquitoes in Hawaiʻi.
When these male mosquitoes mate with females in the forest, the mosquito eggs do not hatch and the mosquito population size drops. No genes are modified in the mosquito or in the Wolbachia bacteria. This mosquito birth control approach is being safely used in 15 different countries, including on the continental United States, the news release said.
The Birds, Not Mosquitoes partnership is guided by the state’s top scientists and researchers, who collectively have many decades of experience studying Hawaiʻi’s forest birds and mosquitoes.
Landscape-scale control of disease-carrying mosquitoes is considered the most urgent conservation issue in Hawai‘i. A recent US Department of Interior report estimated ‘akikiki on Kaua‘i are likely to go extinct in 2023, and the ʻākohekohe, kiwikiu, and ʻakekeʻe, soon after that.
Information from the Birds, Not Mosquitoes group said: “The extinction of the Hawaiian honeycreepers is being driven by exposure to avian diseases transmitted by non-native mosquitoes. Climate change is allowing non-native, disease-carrying mosquitoes to invade higher elevation forests, which was previously the last disease-free habitat where the honeycreepers were safe.”
- The Culex/Wolbachia process is not genetic modification or genetic engineering
- The Culex species involved is already in Hawai‘i
- The Wolbachia bacteria being implanted already occurs in Hawai‘i
- The only change is the strain of Wolbachia being implanted currently occurs in another mosquito genus (Aedes)
- The different Wolbachia strains in Culex will make the male and female mosquitos produce infertile eggs
“It’s disappointing that some people are misinforming others by saying this is using GMOs or GEs,” said Suzanne Case, Chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “These are not genetically modified or engineered organisms. The proposed technique does not modify the genes of mosquitoes or Wolbachia. It is similar process to taking antibiotics, then eating probiotics, to replace the existing community of bacteria with a different community within your stomach.”
All three of the mosquito species are known to carry human diseases in Hawai‘i. Listing the species will enable the Department of Health to utilize this tool to reduce populations of mosquitoes of health concern in a safe, targeted manner, without the use of chemical insecticides, the news release said.
Public testimony for this meeting can be submitted up to 4:30 p.m. June 8 to [email protected] or to Jonathan Ho, Inspection and Compliance Section Chief, [email protected] or faxed to 808-832-0582. Include “Hawai‘i Plant and Animal Advisory Committee on Proposal to Add Three Mosquito Species to List of Restricted Animals” in the subject line.