Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lehua Island restored to the birds; Rats appear to be gone

Shipwreck remains on Niihau beach, with Lehua in background.
The `iwa or great frigatebird swept low over a cluster of trucks, stacks of equipment and a Jet Ranger helicopter on the northern end of Ni`ihau.

As I followed its black-winged form with binoculars, the angular bird made several passes and then returned to its roost on Lehua Island, a gray-brown tuff cone island, just a thousand yards across the Kumukahi Channel from Ni`ihau.

Teams of wildlife professionals worked both Ni`ihau and Lehua in late August and early last month,  using a helicopter guided by computer mapping programs to deliver rat bait across the rugged islet. I was present for one of the sessions.

A month after the final application, indications are that rats no longer populate Lehua, although a final determination of rat presence will be made a year from now, which any survivors--if they exist--will have had a chance to reproduce and make their presence known.

For now, survey teams are finding no footprints at burrows or other indications of rat activity, according to Sheri Mann, head of the Kaua`i office of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. They will keep monitoring for the next year, to confirm that preliminary finding.

The Lehua Island rat eradication project should improve habitat for frigatebirds and dozens of other bird and plant species on the little island—just as wildlife has thrived after similar eradications at other offshore Hawaiian islands, like Mokoli`i Island off O`ahu and Mokapu off north Molokai.

After eradication of black rats on Mokoli`i, successful shearwater nesting became common, coastal naupaka sprouted, and seashore rat-predated species like pipipi and `a`ama crab became abundant.
At Palmyra Atoll to the south of Hawai`i, after rat removal long-absent seabird species established successful nests, shoreline fiddler crabs thrived, and native tree seeds sprouted where they once were eaten.

Lehua has now been given three applications a pale blue pellets of rat bait containing diphacinone—less than a pound of the anticoagulant in several thousand pounds of food grade cereals like wheat and oats and other rat-friendly food items. The new bait was developed by Bell Laboratories in Madison, Wisconsin.

“We’ve had really high acceptance rates of this new, more palatable bait,” said Gregg Howald, North America regional director for Island Conservation, the non-profit that conducts invasive species eradication efforts on islands around the world, in association with partners and landowners.

The Lehua operation’s partners include the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife and its parent agency the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center in Hilo, Niihau Ranch, U.S. Coast Guard, National Tropical Botanical Garden and several other associated organizations and agencies.

The $1 million Lehua project has funding from several sources, including the Department of Land and Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Island Conservation. The results will be monitored for several years.

Several hundred small islands from the equator to the arctic have now been cleared of rats and other invasives. Why islands? Because although their land area is small, they are important crucibles of biological diversity--home to many endangered species, and once home to many species now extinct.

Through my binoculars, I could see the white, brown and black forms of petrels, great frigatebirds, boobies, noddies and other bird species, wheeling on the thermals above Lehua’s sloping spine.

One species, the tiny band-rumped storm petrel, is now entirely missing—arguably because its small size and noisy habits on the nest make it particularly vulnerable to rats, said Nick Holmes, Island Conservation’s Director of Science.

Perhaps on a rat-free Lehua, it will be able to re-establish itself.

Meanwhile, planning in Hawai`i is already underway for a much bigger challenge—clearing the island of Kaho`olawe of species like mice that are inhibiting the island’s revegetation. The Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission is in discussion with Island Conservation and others about the best ways to accomplish that goal.

© 2017 Jan W. TenBruggencate 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Want to lose weight? Go with your gut, or your mom, but not the internet.

You need to lose a little weight, so you go to the internet for solutions, right?


Asking the internet for advice is like asking random people for technical help, except that the internet is also populated with an oversupply of trolls who rejoice in misleading you, along with a whole lot of hucksters trying to sell you things that may or may not help.

I came across a news report that suggested the body’s natural messenger to prevent overeating is a hormone called leptin. So, how do you increase leptin and decrease your appetite?

I went online.

Oh my, the lies, the errors, the active commerce, and the answers from people who know less than you do. 

Here’s Wikihow, which has a long list of tips, including that you should eat protein for breakfast, and definitely not cereal, because after all, cereal is “full of lectin, which actually binds to your leptin receptors, keeping leptin from being able to do its job.”

Of course, then you go to Livestrong.com and the first recommendation is to eat plenty of cereal with fruit, because of the fiber: “Fiber gives you a feeling of fullness, causing your intestinal tract to send a signal to your brain to release more leptin.” 

Some sites say get lots of sleep, because if you don’t sleep your leptin levels drop and you eat.

This guy says it’s all about diet. 

These paleo diet folks say it’s all about diet and lifestyle. They’ll sell you a daily diet program.

These guys will sell you a different diet program to help you “master your metabolism.” All you need to do is buy their book. They’ll also sell you dietary supplements like collagen protein, and “performance coffee”, which cost more than the book.

There are lots of websites that talk about secret foods you must never eat. And others that talk about supplements you must use—and particularly the high quality supplements available exclusively through their particular firms.

I appreciate Healthline for telling you what you already knew. They key to health and weight is no secret: Eat more protein, fewer carbs, more fiber, avoid processed food, sleep better, exercise

Wow. Forget about leptin. Eat right, sleep well and stay fit. You didn’t need the internet for that. Your mom could have handled the job.

© 2017 Jan W. TenBruggencate 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Frankenreefer: GMO marijuana exists, and more is coming.

Free and natural cannabis. Credit: USDA
As our state and nation lumber toward absolute legalization of marijuana use, the fake news crowd is having great fun generating toxic smoke.

We're here to clear the air.

There is a lot of absolute conjecture and supposition in this field, most of it baseless—or to use the latest terminology, Fake News.

We will review here some of the really smelly stuff on the internet, and then what’s really going on.

Did Monsanto create a GMO strain of marijuana, in an evil plot to take over the industry? Well, no, that would be a steaming pile, generated by the FakeNews website, World News Daily Report. 

Yes, this site is all cowcrap, and admits it. Satyrical, fictional, it says on the opening page, and any resemblance to truth is "purely a miracle." There are dozens of sites like it that promulgate the internet hoax, which Wikipedia defines as “deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as the truth.”

But Monsanto-branded GMO bud is a fun story, so not to let it die, some folks are arguing that if Big Ag isn’t genetically modifying pot, it soon will be. Here’s something from the site Herb, which reads as what it is, speculation.  

The bible of the reefer industry, High Times, continues to insist that it’s all a hoax, and that all today’s marijuana, while carefully interbred for potency and flavor, is the result of natural husbandry techniques, not laboratory genetic modification. 

You’ll see reports that the federales busted massive GMO pot operations, without any indication, no offer of proof, that the pot was in fact GMO. 

The marijuana seed company Dutch Passion goes out of its way to say it does not do genetic engineering, and that its crops are not GMO. 

But that said, its blogger, “Dutch Joe,” says GMO dope is inevitable. Dutch Joe says he believes it won’t be Monsanto, but Big Pharma that does it:

“I expect the pharmaceutical companies will invest heavily to genetically engineer a cannabis strain that yields ultra high levels of the whole spectrum of cannabinoid chemicals. The aim will be to extract and isolate them into individual cannabinoids on an industrial scale using thousands of tons of bud. Once individual cannabinoids are isolated I expect they will find their way into pills for very specific medical purposes.”

So, enough of the herb-addled inferences and implications.

The truth is that some GMO cannabis exists, and it is actively being researched, and Frankenreefer isn’t far off.

Italian researcher Fidelia Cascini actually tested strains of superstrong pot and said they were consistent with normal genetics, not laboratory-engineered genetics: 

“Our analyses support the hypothesis that marijuana samples submitted to forensic laboratories and characterized by an abnormal level of Δ9-THC are the product of breeding selection rather than of transgenic modifications.”

But that said, other Italian researchers have already created new genetically modified strains of cannabis by bombarding them with radiation to create the genetic mutations, and this was 15 years ago. 

Here, in the journal Botany and Biotechnology, is a report that talks about the ways to accomplish genetic modification of marijuana: “biotechnology companies have emerged that anticipate commercializing cannabinoid-based drugs in yeast and tobacco and to produce hemp cultivars.”

That's a strange one. What if, due to all the legal issues with the crop, you didn’t want to work with cannabis? 

What if you could create the active ingredients in another form of life—maybe yeast. Yep, that’s being done. And tobacco, as mentioned above.

In summary, there is a lot of interest in biotechnology of cannabis—the creation of GMO pot and the creation of variants of pot's many active ingredients. There are already strains in laboratories of GMO marijuana. And you can expect more.

 “Cannabis is a precious plant with multiple applications, hence the possibility of engineering it genetically to produce useful compounds/raw products is highly valuable,” said an article in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Archipelago-building volcanic hot spots moving scarcely if at all.

New scientific research suggests that volcanic hot spots—like the one that created the Hawaiian Archipelago—are far more stable than previously believed.

Stable, as in, they don’t move much on their own.

(Image: The line of volcanoes forming the 80-million-year-old Hawaiian-Emperor Chain. The bend is at 45 million years. Credit: NOAA.)

Hot spots are those plumes of molten rock that punch through the Earth’s crust from the mantle. They tend to create lines of islands or mountains as the crust moves across them.

The Hawaiian hot spot is believed to have been responsible for the Hawaiian-Emperor chain of islands and undersea volcanic peaks, which runs from Lo`ihi and Hawai`i Islands to the southeast, up to the Aleutians in the northwest.

It has been assumed that both the hot spot and the crust are in movement, but a team of researchers from Rice University’s Department of Earth Science, say their study suggests hot spots move very little, and often not at all.

Their paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters is “Bounds on geologically current rates of motion of groups of hot spots.” In it, lead author Chengzu Wang and his collaborators, say “the rate of hot spot motion perpendicular to the direction of absolute plate motion…differs significantly from zero for only 3 of 10 plates and then” by very little.

What that means is that it is safe to use hot spot volcano progression as a way of calculating the historic movement of the tectonic plates that make up the planet’s crust, they say.

Rice University’s press release on the paper, headlined “Hot Spot at Hawaii: Not So Fast,” starts with the line, “Through analysis of volcanic tracks, Rice University geophysicists have concluded that hot spots like those that formed the Hawaiian Islands aren’t moving as fast as recently thought,”

Our previous coverage of scientific work suggesting that the hot spot is, in fact, doing a lot of moing, is here. 

For more on Hawaiian hot spot activity, see RaisingIslands articles on hot spot depth here. 

On the mysterious bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor chain here and here.

On the relationship of Kīlauea, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa here

Clearly, this is dynamic stuff, but slow-moving.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Lehua rat removal: risk minimal, benefits huge.

Wedgetailed Shearwater chick early August.
There are times when doing nothing is the worst alternative.

We have the opportunity, the technology and the funding to remove aggressive, invasive, non-native rats from the Lehua island bird reserve. We should do it.

What a tragedy for ourselves and our descendants—not to mention the native wildlife, if we did nothing.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is proposing addressing the issue this summer, when rat populations are seasonally low and rat food supplies are low—so they are more susceptible to attractant bait.

(Images: A wedgetailed shearwater chick on Lehua in early August. The same chick, dead and partly eaten, presumably by rats. Credit: Island Conservation.)

The agency proposes using techniques that have been deployed successfully on hundreds of oceanic islands around the world, including several in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is the aerial application of rat bait containing the anticoagulant diphacinone

And while there are risks, those risks seem minimal. There have not been problems with injury to other species when rats were removed from Mokoli`i off O`ahu, from Mokapu off Molokai, from Kure Atoll’s Green Island or from Midway Atoll.

Lehua, a volcanic tuff cone islet north of Ni`ihau, is a bird refuge, but one severely compromised by Pacific rats, which have been there for decades. A dense environmental assessment for the Lehua  rat removal project is available here.

Same chick, killed and partly eaten by rats.
There have been angry arguments against the project, which minimize the actual damage done by rats, and seem strongly driven by the anti-pesticide movement. Take a look here.

Some Kaua`i residents at recent public meetings have expressed concern over the use of rat bait near the coastline. It is a valid concern, but there is ample evidence from previous eradication programs that the bait breaks up in minutes in the water, and sampling has shown no active chemical remnant in the water just days after the application.

There is no evidence of fish kills or detectable toxicity at previous rat eradication efforts on small islets around Hawai`i.

Tests at Palmyra Atoll, which has a robust coral reef system, showed no impact on corals from a much more dense application of rat pellets than proposed for Lehua. A small number of shorebirds could be impacted, but that has not been the case in previous Hawai`i eradications.

So there is a small relative risk. What’s the benefit?

Here is a paper from 2014 on the impact of rats on small tropical islands around the world. 

Rats are a problem everywhere they exist. On Lehua, swarms of rats eat seabird eggs. They kill chicks. And they attack nesting adults. By limiting seabird populations, they reduce the size of oceanic bird flocks that trollers use to identify schools of fish. They even go down to the nearshore rocks and prey on crabs and `opihi.

Rats also feed on native trees and their seeds, and are partly responsible for the loss of Lehua’s native dryland forest. That lack of vegetation promotes sediment runoff from the island into nearshore waters. And they eat the insects on the island, including native insects.

And there is a long-term positive impact not only to the environment of Lehua itself, but addressing the larger global issues facing nesting seabird species.

One of the great benefits of promoting Lehua’s safety for nesting seabirds is that it is a high island, and in an era of climate change and sea level rise, it will provide nesting habitat when the low bird islands of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are drowned.

This seems to be a well-thought-out project using a mature technology, with minimal risk, and one that addresses a real environmental threat.

It is reasonable to be concerned about risks, but it is not reasonable to refuse to act when the benefits far outweigh any theoretical risks.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017