Friday, January 4, 2019

Last Hawaiian yellow-tipped tree snail dies.

 Achatinella apexfulva. Credit: DLNR
The tree snails of O`ahu were both common and famous.
So common that kids would walk into the hills above Honolulu and collect them to make leis. So famous that songs and legends referred to them.
Today, habitat change, predatory snails, rats, chameleons and other threats have made all of the many species rare. And now, another one, Achatinella apexfulva, has become extinct.
The last of his species, this guy was in captivity, and he made it into this year. He died New Year's Day 2019, at age 14.
This Achatinella was part of a gorgeous clan. The tree snail shells are just amazing, with whorls of gold and green, chocolate and café-au-lait, black and ivory. George himself was among the less stunning specimens, his palate limited to pales and browns.
Like his kin, he was famous. Hundreds of school kids have come to see him. He was named Lonesome George, after a lone tortoise from the Galapagos Island of Pinta. Tortoise George was also the last of his species, and he died in 2012. Read more about that George here
George was part of a small group of the last Achatinella apexfulva that were taken into captivity by the Snail Extinction Prevention Program. Researchers were able to get some to reproduce, but not enough to sustain the species. Their scientific name referred to the yellow tip on their shells.
George, a hermaphrodite like all of his species, could play both the male and female roles in reproduction, but apparently required a mate in order to reproduce. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced his demise.
More on the Snail program, along with some stunning imagery of the beautiful shells, is here
The tree snails and others in the Hawaiian native forest will be featured in an hour-long film, "Forests for Life," which looks at all the benefits of native forests and the threats they face. The film will be shown on KFVE-TV (K5), at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18th with a repeat on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019 at 8:00 p.m.
© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Kaua`i `ohi`a infected most deadly form of Rapid `Ohi`a Death fungus

Dead `ohi`a in Kauai forest. Credit: DLNR photo.
The "mother of the forest" on Kaua`i is under deadly attack.

The most aggressive form of Rapid `Ohi`a Death fungus has been identified in a stand of native forest on the island's east side, just months after the less aggressive type was found on the island.
The latest form is a fast-killing disease to which few or no `ohi`a are resistant.
`Ohi`a is perhaps the most significant tree of the Hawaiian forest—the canopy tree in many areas, and a nesting site for many birds. Its attractive red flowers are a major food source for Hawaiian forest birds, and its leaves and flowers are significant in Hawaiian culture.
Photos, a press release and other information are available at the website of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which announced the finding. 
Here is the press release:
(Lihue)-Detection of Ceratocystis lukuohia, the more virulent of the two fungal pathogens causing Rapid ʻŌhi‘a Death (ROD), has now been confirmed in three trees on Department of Hawaiian Home lands parcel behind Kalalea Mountain on the east side of Kaua‘i. This first detection of C. lukuohia comes after the other pathogen resulting in ROD, Ceratocystis huliohia, was detected on Kauai in three distinct locations this past year.
“These three trees that tested positive for C. lukuohia were spotted by our rapid response team as they were conducting botanical surveys across the island,” said Sheri S. Mann, Kaua‘i District Manager for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). “Later, a team trekked by foot to visually inspect and take samples from the tree.”
ʻŌhi‘a die for many reasons, although symptoms consistent with ROD include the sudden browning of leaves on limbs or the entire crowns of trees. The fungus is not visible on the leaves or the bark but grows in the sapwood just below the bark. The three trees that were sampled earlier this month stood out in a forest of green, because the entirety of the trees leaves had browned.
Samples were then sent to the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Hilo for the necessary laboratory testing that confirmed C. lukuohia in all three trees.
“This is obviously news we didn’t want to hear,” Mann said. “But within a day of learning the news, we scheduled a helicopter to conduct more digital mobile sketch mapping to identify any additional symptomatic trees. We followed that with pinpoint drone surveys conducted by the UH Hilo Department of Geography SDAV Lab and more tree sampling to try and determine the severity and distribution of the outbreak. It’s been a busy week.”
A benefit for Kaua‘i is the hard-earned research conducted on Hawaii Island where ROD was identified more than four years ago. Hundreds of thousands of trees have died due to ROD on Hawai‘i Island, more than 90 percent due to C. lukuohia. Earlier this year, scientists at ARS described the two-different species of fungi that cause ROD as C. huliohia and C. lukuohia. Both species are new to science.
The difference between the two pathogens is how they move through the tree and how quickly they kill.
“The pathogen enters the tree through a wound; be it a broken limb, twig or, perhaps, a scuffed up exposed root. Whereas C. huliohia may take months to years to kill an ʻōhiʻa tree, C. lukuohia can kill a tree within weeks,” said James B. Friday, the extension forester with the University of Hawaii.
The Kaua‘i ROD Working Group does not know exactly when or how the disease arrived on Kaua‘i-whether it was the result of human activity or on its own, e.g. via the wind.
Once additional lab results and drone imagery are available, the rapid response team will consult with the ROD science team to determine what management actions should be taken. 
“Our priority is to save ʻōhiʻa. It has a critical role in the ecosystem’s function,” said Tiffani Keanini, project manager of Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee (KISC). “We are currently determining the best method to contain the spread and prevent ROD from entering pristine watershed areas. At this point, we are treating the recent outbreak with rapid response actions.  As we learn more about the distribution and density of the affected area, we will likely adapt our management strategy efforts.”
The C. lukuohia detection site is located in a remote area at 550-foot elevation. This forest location is comprised of a mix of native trees and plants like ʻōhi‘a, koa, hala, and uluhe that are being crowded out by non-natives such as albizia, java plum, strawberry guava, and octopus trees. Unfortunately, any loss of a native tree will give rise to the faster-growing invasives unless aggressive native tree plantings take place.
“The Department of Hawaiian home lands supports the DLNR efforts to save the ʻōhiʻa on Kaua’i and we thank their team for their swift action to date. We will continue to monitor the situation and do all we can to assist. We encourage our beneficiaries and the public to follow the distributed guidelines to prevent more trees from becoming infected,” said Jobie Masagatani, Chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission.
As there is no known cure to ROD, prevention is the key to ensuring it doesn’t spread and both Kama‘aina and visitors can help by following these key five guidelines:
1) Keep your eyes open. If you see ʻōhiʻa with a limb or crown turning brown, take a picture, and contact KISC via email ( or phone (808-821-1490). Samples of the wood must be taken by trained technicians and tested in a laboratory to confirm the presence of the ROD fungi.
2) Avoid injuring ʻōhiʻa. Wounds serve as entry points for the fungus and increase the odds that the tree will become infected and die from ROD. Avoid pruning and contact with heavy equipment wherever possible.
3) Clean gear and tools, including shoes and clothes, before and after entering the forest and areas where ʻōhiʻa may be present. Brush all soil off tools and gear, then spray with 70% rubbing alcohol. Wash clothes with hot water and soap.
4) Wash your vehicle with a high-pressure hose or washer if you’ve been off-roading or have picked up mud from driving. Clean all soil off tires–including mountain bikes and motorcycles–and vehicle undercarriage.
5) Don’t move ʻōhiʻa wood or ʻōhiʻa parts, including adjacent soil. The disease can be spread to new areas by moving plants, plant parts, and wood from infected areas to non-infected areas.
©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Missing Hawaiian humpback whales? They're staying late in Alaskan waters, but it's still not certain why.

Hawai`i's humpback whales are missing, and now there are new clues about why.

In Hawai`i as well as other southern migration areas, steep declines in whale numbers are being reported. Researchers in Alaskan waters now report that they're seeing whales that are staying in northern waters instead of migrating.

(Image: Humpback in Sitka Sound, Mt. Edgecumbe: Humpback whale flukes are visible just on the surface with Mt. Edgecumbe on the horizon in Sitka, Alaska Sunday, October 28, 2018. Credit: Seanna O’Sullivan/UAS.)
What's not yet clear is whether they will just delay migration, perhaps because of warmer conditions in areas like Sitka Sound, or whether they can't migrate because changes in food availability have deprived them of the energy for the 30-day migration.

It is also not yet clear whether the delayed or omitted migrations will impact populations. Humpback whales make the trip to southern waters to give birth to their young.

“We are concerned that the offshore warm water anomaly known as 'the blob' and other ocean conditions has had a negative impact on humpback whale prey.” said Ellen Chenoweth, a UAS Adjunct Professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Researchers are trying to raise the funds to figure out what's going on, she said.  It is not just that the whales are staying longer, but there are indications they are in distress. A release from the University of Alaska Southeast suggests there's something serious going on: "The researchers noted that they are seeing fewer calves, skinnier whales and more whales staying longer into winter feeding on herring, partially migrating and returning or possibly not migrating at all."

“We would like to quantify the changes in the numbers and distribution of whales present in winter and try to get at the cause and effect. But we need more monitoring funds. This means we need gas in the boat, time to be out there later in the season and, more technicians to manage the data and document the whales and more time on the water,” Chenoweth said.

The UAS Whale Research and Education Support fund will support the research. Donations can be made here. 

The dramatic change in migration habits mars a textbook success story in whale conservation.
Humpback whale populations had been drawn so low by whaling that they were listed as endangered in 1973 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 
By the 1980s, numbers that winter in Hawai`i had risen from a few thousand to more than 11,000. Almost all of those whales summer in southeastern Alaskan waters where the feed on schools of capelin, juvenile walleye pollock, sand lance, Pacific herring and krill.  

The dramatic increase in humpback populations continued into the 2010s, but appeared to stop and then drop a couple of years ago.

“There is a substantial decline in the number of whales we’re seeing. But when we look very closely at least in the waters off Lahaina (Maui), which is where most of the whales congregate, that decline is very much accounted for by the drop in the number of mother and calf pairs,” said Rachel Cartwright, a California State University researcher who heads the Keiki Kohola project.

An Associated Press story reviewed the reports of declining whale numbers in the islands. 

Cartwright said that reduced food supplies in the northern feeding waters are among the suspects for the decline. Chenoweth said Alaskan fisheries officials are also concerned about the impact of feeding whales on winter populations of schooling herring.
Early indications are that the first decline in humpback whales was caused by direct killing of the animals by the whaling fleets of the 1800s and 1900s. The cause of the new decline may be indirect: the impact of climate change on water temperatures and prey availability. 

©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

Kauai pilot whale strandings punctuated by seven separate stranding incidents in a week down under

Dead pilot whales Kalapaki Beach. Credit: Author
Whale strandings—like the one that killed five pilot whales on an East Kaua`i beach last year--remain among the most mysterious of natural occurrences.

Kaua'i residents were traumatized the morning of Oct. 13, 2017, as glossy black pilot whales lay gasping on the sand at Kalapaki Bay. When well-meaning citizens shoved them back into deep water, most returned to the sand.

Boaters in canoes and power craft patrolled the bay, trying to keep remaining members of the pod from stranding. Eventually, five big whales were dead.

Seven strandings within the past week of more than 200 whales of several species in New Zealand and Australia has refocused attention on marine mammal strandings.

In all those southern hemisphere strandings, as in the Kaua`i stranding, the cause was not immediately apparent.

And in the Kaua`i case, despite intensive studies over a full year, scientists have been able to identify no obvious trigger.

"We still have no smoking gun but we're still looking," said David Schofield, stranding coordinator for NOAA's Pacific Islands Regional Office.

One of the Kaua`i animals, an older one, had signs of degenerative disease in earbones, but that was unlikely a cause of stranding, he said. One whale had about 10 pounds of marine debris in its gut, but that, too, was not a likely cause, Schofield said.

When animals are diseased, they are often malnourished. These whales weren't starved. There was fresh food in their bellies. There were no obvious signs of disease identified in a well-staffed mass necropsy that continued through the night of the strandings.

They weren't damaged by sonar: No sonar vessels were operating in the area, and in any case, the necropsies found none of the kind of inner ear damage caused by high-intensity sonar.

There were no signs of disease apparent within the first few weeks after the stranding.

Muscle and organ samples were sent to specialized laboratories, but tests for pesticides or rat killers like diphacinone were negative. (Diphacinone was of interest because it had been used in a rat control effort on Lehua Islet in the weeks before the strandings.)

Researchers are still working on laboratory studies of possible contaminants in the whale tissues, and tissue samples remain in storage.

"We keep the file open. As new science becomes available, we may go back and look again," Schofield said.

A series of seven separate strandings by different whale species in New Zealand and Australia—all within the past week--adds to the enigma.

Mystery is often the case in explaining whale strandings. And it’s just as much a puzzle this week in New Zealand and Australia.

Within the space of seven days, whales drove themselves on five separate New Zealand beaches from the North Island down to little Stewart Island, which lies south of Aotearoa's South Island, and even to the remote Chatham Islands, which lie in the Pacific east of New Zealand. And another two species died this week on the same beach, but in separate strandings in southern Australia.

Ninety pilot whales went ashore on the Chatham Islands today. An estimated 50 were dead or in such bad shape that wildlife officials euthanized them. A few were able to refloat themselves and may survive.

Four days earlier, 145 pilot whales went ashore on remote Mason's Bay on Stewart Island. They were the same species as in the Kaua`i 2017 stranding. All the Stewart Island whales died on a beach so isolated that it is only accessible by foot trail or by air. An aerial photo shows the one to two-ton whales scattered by the dozens along the shore, like so many akule drowned in a surround net.

On the North Island, 12 pygmy killer whales went ashore on one beach this past week. A few were reportedly pushed back into the water and may have survived, but at least half were dead. A sperm whale died on another North Island beach, and a pygmy sperm whale on still another.

Meanwhile, in Australia, 27 pilot whales and a humpback whale were spotted dead this week on a remote beach in Croajingolong National Park, which is in Victoria, the southernmost district on the Australian mainland.

They were spotted by air. By the time wildlife officials were able to get there, some of the pilot whales were still alive, but were so severely traumatized that they were put down. The humpback seems to have stranded earlier and was already dead, Australian wildlife officials said.

And once again, at this point nobody knows why. It is a long distance between these locations. From Stewart Island to the northern beaches of North Island is nearly 1,000 miles. From the Chathams in the Pacific to Victoria in the Tasman Sea is 2,000 miles.

There are lots of theories, many being proposed without evidence.

Folks looking for a common thread in the latest strandings have suggested climate change, but that's a guess. And it wouldn’t explain that the largest known stranding occurred a century ago. One thousand pilot whales stranded and died in the Chatham Islands in 1918.

The New Zealand stranding response organization Project Jonah, says it might be illness, parasites, pollution, injury from boat strikes, human undersea seismic work or sonar, disorientation due to shallow waters, boat noise, undersea volcanic or earthquake activity, and in some cases, simple geological traps—whales swimming into a bay a high tide an being unable to leave at low tide.

There is, in many of these cases, a kind of community unity. Once one whale is in trouble, the others stay in support—even at the risk of dying.

"Whatever the reason for the initial stranding, social cohesion may result in mass beaching. Their strong social bonds may prevent them deserting a helpless member. Going to their aid, these animals may then also become stranded themselves," says Project Jonah.

Strandings occur seasonally in some parts of the world, although not in Hawai`i. The stranding season is just beginning in the Australia-New Zealand area. Schofield recalls working Cape Cod, where there was also seasonality.

"In wintertime, when you saw certain tides, sea conditions and moon phase, you could almost predict them," he said.

And even so, the causes remain a mystery.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Friday, November 23, 2018

New federal climate report: Hawaii impacts severe and already here

Climate change isn't coming; it's already here.

A new national report lays out the many ways in which the Hawaiian Islands are already in the grip of severe changes, from our nearshore waters to our highest peaks.

The short version: Fresh water supplies are threatened in multiple ways; Coastlines are eroding and rising salt water is damaging coastal infrastructure; Fisheries are seeing lower yields; Wildlife is disappearing.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II, prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, looks at the effects of the global climate crisis across the nation, and includes an entire section on Hawai`i and the Pacific.

Climate indicators and impacts.
From 4th NCA Vol2
It follows up on Volume 1, the Climate Science Special Report, which came out about this time last year. The research effort was established by congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.

“This report makes it clear that climate change has arrived far sooner and as a greater threat than we previously thought,” said the East-West Center's Victoria Keener, who served as regional lead for the Hawai`i-Pacific chapter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the latest version of the report adds new information in the ways different climate impacts interact. "There is now information available on the interconnectedness of different sectors, and how this can lead to ripple effects," said Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist with the organization. Examples: heat waves are linked to power outages, drought to crop losses, warming oceans to loss of coral reefs.

Keener emphasized the local impacts, and said immediate action is crucial:

"We're already seeing threats in Hawai`i and the Pacific… In the mid-2000s, Hawai`i had the worst drought on record… Here on O‘ahu, we already see road closures during morning rush hour because of flooding, and with sea level rise we’ll see this more and more. Our Pacific Island neighbors on atolls will face sustainability challenges sooner rather than later. The world’s largest insurers recently stated that climate change is creating an ‘uninsurable’ world. Only by acting now can we hope to effectively manage these risks,” Keener said.

The City and County of Honolulu's chief resilience officer Josh Stanbro said one action is particularly critical: " Given the hurricane threats and flooding we’ve already seen, everyone’s new year resolution should be to get off of fossil fuel as fast as we possibly can—it’s the only way to protect our safety and long-term security.”

The islands depend on fresh water, and water supplies are threatened by droughts that reduce groundwater recharge, reduced rainfall that shrinks streamflow, flooding during increasing storm events that spread pollutants, saltwater intrusion along coasts that turns nearshore groundwater brackish and much more.

Zena Grecni, a Yale-educated climate assessment specialist with NOAA at the East-West Center, said "the leadership at the state and county level is critical."

Both Grecni and Keener cited the city Board of Water Supply for its aggressive efforts to protect Honolulu water supplies from the impacts of climate change. Keener said community groups in various places on the Islands are also leaders in addressing climate change.

In a public statement on the climate report, the East-West Center listed some of its key findings:

Dependable and safe water supplies are threatened by rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, sea level rise, and increased risk of extreme drought and flooding. Islands are already experiencing saltwater contamination due to sea level rise, which is expected to catastrophically impact food and water security, especially on low-lying atolls.

Sea level rise has accelerated and is now damaging critical infrastructure such as transportation and housing, as well as beaches, ecosystems and cultural sites. In Hawai‘i, the value of all structures and land expected to be flooded by 2100 amounts to more than $19 billion statewide. The Pacific Islands will experience sea level rise higher than the global average, projected to further accelerate strongly after mid-century. Adaptation strategies that are implemented sooner can better prepare communities and infrastructure.

Increasing ocean temperatures and acidification threaten fisheries, coral reefs, and the livelihoods they support. Widespread coral reef bleaching and death are occurring more frequently, and by mid-century these events are projected to occur annually, especially if current trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue. Bleaching and acidification will result in loss of reefs, leading to lower fisheries yields and loss of coastal protection and habitat.

These changes imperil Indigenous peoples’ health and well-being and their relationships with lands, territories, and cultural resources.

Climate change reduces the ability of habitats to support protected plant and animal species. Changes promote the spread of invasive species, threatening biodiversity, important to island people and a source of economic revenue. Some species are expected to become extinct and others to decline to the point of requiring costly protection.

“This Assessment puts out a red alert to island communities like Oʻahu and shows just how vulnerable we are at a local level to climate change,” Stanbro said.

©Jan TenBruggencate 2018