Coqui frog in Hawaii (Photo by Syd Singer)
Coqui frog in Hawaii (Photo by Syd Singer)

BY SYD SINGER  – State Rep. Faye Hanohano, a native Hawaiian, made the news recently by making disparaging statements against non-native Hawaiian residents. Now, the State is declaring Invasive Species Awareness Week, and is making disparaging statements against non-native species.

The argument is the same in both cases. The Hawaiian “brand” is being tainted by introduced cultures and species from other parts of the planet. While it is not currently politically correct to attack immigrant peoples from different cultures, it is politically correct to attack immigrant species from different ecosystems.

And the key word is attack. The state is at war with coqui frogs, strawberry guava fruit trees, mangrove trees, banyan trees, and many other species whose sole offense is that they are not part of the Hawaiian brand.

The term “invasive” does not only apply to noxious species, like mosquitoes or agricultural insect pests. It refers to species that change the character of the environment and allegedly alter our way of life.

Coqui frogs, for example, may be loved in their native Puerto Rico for their nighttime chirping, but the sound is not Hawaiian, so coquis are considered invasive here. The sound is Caribbean, not Polynesian.

Strawberry guava was introduced to Hawaii from Brazil about 200 years ago and has become part of the local culture, even given the local name “waiawi”. But it is now under attack because our forests are supposed to have native species of o’hia and koa, not Brazilian strawberry guava.

Red mangroves were brought to Hawaii 100 years ago to protect shoreline and provide habitat for fish and other marine life. Ancient Polynesians who settled Hawaii brought with them white mangrove, called milo, for the same reason. Now, however, the red mangrove is being destroyed because it is not native to Hawaii and is changing the character of the shoreline, while white mangrove is being protected because the Hawaiians brought it here.

The coqui frog, strawberry guava, and mangrove are all desirable species where they are native. They were desirable species in Hawaii prior to our current nativistic chauvinism. Like different cultures that have come to Hawaii, these newcomers have changed the character of these islands. Some people like the change. Others hope for the past and are angry at the new Hawaii that is evolving.

There is a cost, however, for wanting the past. You must first destroy the present.

The war on invasive species uses chemical and biological weapons. Herbicides are sprayed on our forests to kill unwanted plants with the allegation this will save the watershed, meanwhile polluting our groundwater. Insect pests, fungus and pathogens are released into the environment to sicken and destroy targeted species, and often end up attacking non-target species, too.

In Hawaii, there is only one land mammal, the hoary bat. Everything else was introduced, making our wildlife almost completely “invasive” and targeted for eradication.

The economic cost of destroying these nonnative resources is never calculated because it is currently politically incorrect for Hawaii to value non-Hawaiian species. Another cost that is not considered is how the native agenda is creating hatred and prejudice towards nonnative people.

Fear of people from other cultures is called xenophobia. Fear of species from other ecosystems is called bio-xenophobia. One feeds the other. And both go against the Aloha Spirit, which is the real brand that these islands should be promoting.

Native species, like native culture, must adapt to change, or face extinction. That’s a fact of life and of nature. We can hate that fact, and hate all newcomers to Hawaii, whether they be human, animal, or plant. But it is that hate that will destroy our way of life.

We can accept change. But we must not accept hatred.



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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.