Courtesy Frogworld.net

Courtesy Frogworld.net

BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – A few weeks ago we were being told to feel good about nuclear energy, allegedly a safe, green alternative to coal and oil.

The fallout from the Japan tsunami has contaminated that dream. We have had an environmental 9/11. Everything will change.

Nuclear power plants that have had no problem up to now are suddenly suspect. And as 9/11 gave us extensive body scans for weapons, we will soon have them for radiation.

The reality has not really changed. Nuclear power plants, apart from the damaged ones in Japan, are operating as they did a few weeks ago. But our feelings about them have changed.

We humans are run by our feelings. We think of ourselves as “rational” animals. But we are more “rationalizing” than rational. We use our minds to justify our feelings.

Just a few days before the Japan disaster began, I was speaking at an environmental law conference in Eugene, Oregon about the environmental and legal problems caused by invasive species control and eradication efforts. As my poster child for invasion biology gone mad I used the Frog War conducted here in Hawaii against the coqui. I never imagined that the coqui would be connected in many ways to a disaster that was about to begin in Japan.

The first connection was the way people view living with nuclear power and coqui frogs. Would you rather have coqui frogs or a nuclear power plant in your back yard?

As it happens, if you do have a nuclear power plant in your back yard, or if you are in the path of nuclear radiation from a nuclear power plant explosion as it spreads across the planet with the winds, you would probably be better off with coquis also in your back yard.

Before I explain why this may be so, you may be wondering what’s up with the coquis in Hawaii that even makes them an issue. So for those new to Hawaii and who have missed all the anti-coqui propaganda of the past decade, here is some background.

The small tree frog is being attacked and has been officially declared a pest in Hawaii mostly because of its chirping “noise”. Meanwhile, this same frog is honored as the national animal of Puerto Rico, where it is loved for its nocturnal “serenade”. Whether noise or serenade is clearly in the ears of the beholder.

But there’s more. The coqui frog is also not native to Hawaii, and the current fashion in environmentalism is to try to restore ancient environments by removing species that have arrived since western contact. Of course, attacking a species for not being native is a biological anti-immigration policy, promoting hatred and intolerance for immigrant species. It is a type of bigotry and breeds the same negative cultural behaviors that bigotry against human immigrants brings.

The coqui frog is a perfect example of enviro-bigotry. Yes, some people don’t like the sound of coquis and may want to remove the frogs from their immediate surroundings. But a government sponsored eradication campaign?

Since the Frog War began around a decade ago, the only damage has been, not from the frogs, but from the war itself.

Everything is attitude. A field bulldozed in Waimea to kill a few coqui frogs (this actually happened) can be seen as either destruction or remediation.

Is the poisoning of 35 acres of mangroves on the Big Island and leaving them to rot along the shoreline environmental destruction or restoration?

Is releasing a biocontrol insect to attack and infest strawberry guava on hundreds of thousands of acres of private and public lands statewide natural resource destruction or native resource preservation?

Your answer depends on how you feel about coqui frogs, mangroves, strawberry guava, and how you feel about the impacts to the environment of bulldozers, poisons, pestilence.

Is a nuclear power plant a potential disaster or a green solution?

A lot of feelings were swept away this month by the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Many people feel worse about nuclear energy, but some on the Big Island now feel better about the coqui frogs and their chirping.

The reason for the new found coqui appreciation has to do with release of radiation from Japan and whether it would reach Hawaii.

How does this relate to coquis? As evacuation was ordered in Hawaii for the tsunami, people were on edge as fear gripped their minds. And in the darkness of nights following that night of sirens warning of a pending tsunami, some people were unable to sleep as they worried about nuclear fallout from the damaged power plants. And then their minds shifted to the sound of the coquis.

When I returned home many people told me they had been soothed and comforted by that coqui sound. The frogs were happy. All must be well, they thought. And they were able to go back to sleep.

Some people buy Geiger counters that chirp when there is radiation. Coqui frogs chirp when there is no radiation.

Coqui frogs, like all amphibians, are environmental health indicators. Frogs are among the first species to show impacts from pollution. If you have healthy frogs, chances are you have a healthy environment. On the other hand, you don’t want to live where there are sick, mutating, or dying frogs.

So for us in Hawaii who live with coquis, we now have a nighttime sound that tells us that our environment is healthy. We have coquis in the coal mine.

It’s the same sound as it was a few weeks ago. But now, it is a reassuring sound in a polluting world.

It all has to do with how we feel. And it seems the worse people feel about pollution and radiation, the better they may feel about coqui frogs.

So here is a reminder that we are all in this together. If a tsunami, earthquake, nuclear fallout or other disaster threatens our islands, we all suffer together. Not just people. Everything. Even the frogs.

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Sydney Ross Singer is a medical and environmental anthropologist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation, located on the Big Island. Sydney is a pioneer of applied medical anthropology, and he is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The sound alone is beautiful. I don’t mind it. I would imagine many, or most people wouldn’t. But when there is a dozen chirps per second at every distance for as far as the ear can hear going off all at once it sounds something like this: coqui Coqui COQUI! coqui coqui coqui Coqui COQUI! coqui coqui COQUI! coqui Coqui Coqui coqui COQUI! COQUI! coqui coqui crickets coqui Coqui COQUI! Coqui leaves rustling in the wind coqui coqui COQUI! coqui Coqui Neighbor yelling Coqui COQUI! coqui coqui Coqui COQUI! coqui COQUI! coqui coqui Coqui coqui COQUI! coqui Coqui car driving by COQUI! Coqui coqui COQUI! coqui coqui Coqui dog bark COQUI! coqui coqui coqui Coqui Coqui COQUI! COQUI! Bump in the night Coqui coqui coqui COQUI! coqui coqui COQUI! coqui coqui coqui coqui coqui COQUI! coqui coqui coqui coqui…

    Suddenly the relative quietness of Hawaii’s night is relatively loud. You quickly get used to it and tune them out after a couple weeks, just like you’d tune out the railroad track you live near (sorry for the emotionally charged argument). Anyway, killing coqui in your infested yard is one thing. It’s a pointless battle. But if Syd is trying to rile opposition to coqui control in plant nurseries that export to the rest of Hawaii and the world, or eradication of small satellite populations of coqui before they get out of hand in new areas- that’s where the issues come in. He should be specific. When I read emotionally charged words and half truths, the author looses credibility.

    To consider an animal with few natural population controls to represent a healthy environment simply shows a lack of understanding of the environment and natural systems.

    • Hawaii is filled with invasive insects. Coquis help control insect populations. Coquis eat fire ants, mosquitoes, roaches, centipedes, and just about any insect smaller than itself. Coquis also eat other coquis, and are the primary predators of coqui eggs. And any bird that eats insects will eat baby coquis, which hatch into the world as tiny froglets the size of bugs. (Coquis go through their tadpole stage in their eggs and don’t require standing water as other frogs do.)

      For sure, people who don’t want coquis singing to them at night need to respond quickly to prevent coquis from getting established, hopefully doing so in a humane way. Unfortunately, the laws make it illegal to move coquis, say from your backyard to a nearby forest where there are other coquis. According to law, coquis must be killed, by either cooking them, freezing them, or burning them with acid. So being humane may be illegal, one of the nasty side effects of the Frog War. (Imagine what we are doing to our children when training them to kill tree frogs with acid, etc., because you don’t like their sound.)

      As for nurseries exporting coquis, I believe all exported plants should be inspected and treated for all sorts of unintended creatures. The question is why Hawaii does not treat imports with the same requirement for treatment as exports. That is how coquis came here in the first place, along with the insects pests they eat.

      For more information about coquis, see http://www.HawaiianCoqui.org.

      • “The question is why Hawaii does not treat imports with the same requirement for treatment as exports.”

        Now that would make an excellent articel!

  2. “As my poster child for invasion biology gone mad [Someone has definitely gone mad] I used the Frog War conducted here in Hawaii against the coqui. I never imagined that the coqui would be connected in many ways to a disaster that was about to begin in Japan.” [Don’t sell yourself short. You have a VIVID imagination]

    “The first connection was the way people view living with nuclear power and coqui frogs. Would you rather have coqui frogs or a nuclear power plant in your back yard?” [Is “neither” one of the choices?]

    “As it happens, if you do have a nuclear power plant in your back yard [which in Hawaii would be where?], or if you are in the path of nuclear radiation from a nuclear power plant explosion as it spreads across the planet with the winds, you would probably be better off with coquis also in your back yard.” [Seriously? You’d probably be better off with getting out of there.]

    “Before I explain why this may be so, you may be wondering [Not really] what’s up with the coquis in Hawaii that even makes them an issue. So for those new to Hawaii and who have missed all the anti-coqui propaganda of the past decade, here is some background.”

    “The small tree frog is being attacked and has been officially declared a pest in Hawaii mostly because of its chirping “noise” [That and the fact that the coqui are able to attain some of the highest densities ever observed for terrestrial amphibian populations and could threaten invertebrates and compete with birds for food resources]. Meanwhile, this same frog is honored as the national animal of Puerto Rico [You mean, it’s the Nene of Puerto Rico?], where it is loved for its nocturnal “serenade”. Whether noise or serenade is clearly in the ears of the beholder.” [I actually agree with that]

    “But there’s more. The coqui frog is also not native to Hawaii [We know. You just told us it was from Puerto Rico], and the current fashion in environmentalism is [Wearing Crocs?] to try to restore ancient environments by removing species that have arrived since western contact [Whoops. My bad]. Of course, attacking a species for not being native is a biological anti-immigration policy, promoting hatred and intolerance for immigrant species [How about attacking a species for not being native, AND for stinging you. Or for increasing fire hazards? Or for destroying important agricultural crops like coffee? Or for degrading the watershed? etc.]. It is a type of bigotry and breeds the same negative cultural behaviors that bigotry against human immigrants brings.” [Exactly. Pull weeds. Hate humans. Guilty as charged]

    “The coqui frog is a perfect example of enviro-bigotry. Yes, some people don’t like the sound of coquis [Or the potential effects they will have on the environment if they continue to spread and reach the other islands] and may want to remove the frogs from their immediate surroundings. But a government sponsored eradication campaign?” [Not anymore on the Big Island. Nice job at moving them around]

    “Since the Frog War began around a decade ago [In a galaxy far, far away], the only damage has been, not from the frogs, but from the war itself.” [My feelings have been hurt]

    “Everything is attitude [That would make a great Nike slogan]. A field bulldozed in Waimea to kill a few coqui frogs (this actually happened) [Hey, I’m supposed to be providing the color commentary. Stick to your first person voice] can be seen as either destruction or remediation.”

    “Is the poisoning of 35 acres of mangroves on the Big Island and leaving them to rot along the shoreline environmental destruction or restoration?” [Is allowing mangroves to spread on the Big Island and drop tons of rotting leaf litter into the ocean every year, year after year, pollution or prestidigitation?]

    “Is releasing a biocontrol insect to attack and infest strawberry guava on hundreds of thousands of acres of private and public lands statewide natural resource destruction or native resource preservation?” [It’s resource preservation, but can we stick to the frog topic? You’re all over the place with this article. Focus!]

    “Your answer depends on how you feel about coqui frogs, mangroves, strawberry guava, and how you feel about the impacts to the environment of bulldozers, poisons, pestilence.’ [Bulldozers, poisons and pestilence, oh my!]

    “Is a nuclear power plant a potential disaster or a green solution?” [Yes]

    “A lot of feelings were swept away this month by the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Many people feel worse about nuclear energy, but some on the Big Island now feel better about the coqui frogs and their chirping.” [I know at least one person for sure]

    “The reason for the new found coqui appreciation has to do with release of radiation from Japan and whether it would reach Hawaii.” [I have to hand it to you. You managed to turn a truly tragic disaster into a platform for your agenda. Nice work. It’s more impressive than six degrees of Kevin Bacon]

    “How does this relate to coquis? [I have no idea] As evacuation was ordered in Hawaii for the tsunami, people were on edge as fear gripped their minds. And in the darkness of nights following that night of sirens warning of a pending tsunami, some people were unable to sleep as they worried about nuclear fallout from the damaged power plants. And then their minds shifted to the sound of the coquis.” [I’m sure that’s how it went down in one person’s mind]

    “When I returned home many people told me they had been soothed and comforted by that coqui sound. The frogs were happy [The frogs were happy? Isn’t that a bit anthropomorphic? I thought you were all about the science]. All must be well, they thought. And they were able to go back to sleep.” [That and several tequila shots probably helped]

    “Some people buy Geiger counters that chirp when there is radiation. Coqui frogs chirp when there is no radiation.” [But if the radiation is bad enough that the coqui frogs are no longer chirping, haven’t you already been exposed to the same levels of radiation?]

    “Coqui frogs, like all amphibians, are environmental health indicators. Frogs are among the first species to show impacts from pollution. If you have healthy frogs, chances are you have a healthy environment [Just ask Australia about their Cane toads]. On the other hand, you don’t want to live where there are sick, mutating, or dying frogs.” [Heck no! Mutating frogs?!? I’ve seen Godzilla]

    “So for us in Hawaii who live with coquis, we now have a nighttime sound that tells us that our environment is healthy [I guess that means we should all drink from the rivers and streams! No more giardia or leptosporosis! Hooray!]. We have coquis in the coal mine.” [That would make a great name for a bluegrass band]

    “It’s the same sound as it was a few weeks ago. But now, it is a reassuring sound in a polluting world.” [Except in the daytime, when they generally don’t make any sound. We are SO in trouble if the nuclear reactor meltdown radiation death cloud arrives during the day time. I hope I’m not being alarmist]

    “It all has to do with how we feel [Trust your feelings. Use the force]. And it seems the worse people feel about pollution and radiation, the better they may feel about coqui frogs.” [That sounds like a direct inverse correlation. You should make a graph of that]

    “So here is a reminder that we are all in this together. If a tsunami, earthquake, nuclear fallout or other disaster threatens our islands, we all suffer together. Not just people. Everything. Even the frogs.” [This conclusion is a bit of a letdown. You were telling a gripping tale, with the frogs as the heroic protagonists, and now you describe a situation in which we are all basically screwed. Oh well. We can’t win them all. Not always. Not even the frogs]

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