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

BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – After years of trying to eradicate coqui frogs from their new home in Hawaii, research has just been published that exposes the myth that coquis destroy the quality of life in these previously frog-free islands.

The December, 2014 issue of the journal Biological Conservation has an article entitled, “A social–ecological systems approach to non-native species: Habituation and its effect on management of coqui frogs in Hawaii”.

The conclusion is that people who live with the coquis get to like the little frogs, making eradication efforts difficult. Surprisingly, according to the study’s authors, the more frogs there are, the more people enjoy living with them.

Residents’ attitudes correlated with coqui frog abundance, but in an unexpected direction: People with more frogs on their property and those who owned that property tended to have less negative attitudes toward the coqui.”

So much for the oft repeated mantra maligning the coquis for their nocturnal “shrill shriek” guaranteed to keep residents awake all night. For most of those who live with coquis, their sound becomes a welcome part of life in Hawaii’s tropical rainforests.

I like to share a story with you about my family’s relationship with the coquis.

We live in lower Puna in open air style housing, surrounded by forest. We deeply experience nature, and even feel the slight change in temperature as the clouds move by. Birds fly through our house. In the distance we hear the sound of the surf over a mile away. At nighttime, we enjoy our coqui chorus lulling us to sleep. Mother Nature is good to us.

Of course, Mother Nature has a bitchy side, too, as we experienced this year with Hurricane Iselle, and the June 27 lava flow. The lava approached our Pahoa community and threatened our lifestyle. Open air living suddenly meant not having windows to close out the smokey pollution from the lava.

We had chosen a way of life close to nature. Now we felt nature had become the enemy from which we needed protection.

Like many residents of lower Puna we decided to find an alternative place to live in the event that life in Puna became too difficult and unhealthy for us. We also needed to consider how hard it would be to conduct our work for the Good Shepherd Foundation if our office was cut off from the rest of the island by lava.

The Good Shepherd Foundation began a website to help people evacuate from the lava zone, at www.HelpPuna.org. Meanwhile, we decided to visit family in California and watch the lava disaster unfold from a safe distance. (I am writing this from Grass Valley, CA.)

However, after being in lower Puna for 22 years, living off the grid and growing our own food, life on the Mainland is a challenge of its own. Perhaps the biggest change was the feeling of again living in a closed house, with nothing but silence all night long.

We missed our coquis.

So we found a Youtube posting of coquis singing, including the sounds of crickets. It was remarkably realistic when played on our iPhone. It sounded exactly like home. (FYI, here is the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxBSQ7sah3I)

I must admit that the sound was extremely comforting. It brought us back home to Hawaii. How ironic that a so-called invasive species which the government insists “doesn’t belong in Hawaii” was the most Hawaiian thing we could bring into our Mainland experience.

As the lava flow continues to threaten lower Puna, setting fire to the surrounding forest, I feel deep sympathy for all the people and their pets and livestock which are affected by this disaster. But I also feel for the coquis, and the geckoes, and birds and all the other creatures of the forest who are impacted.

In fact, I feel a kinship to all the living things on lower Puna. We are all in this together. In the face of Mother Nature’s darker side, all living things are linked together in the struggle for survival.

Lava is the most “native” substance of all in Hawaii. It is the beginning of life, creating the islands on which people and species from around the world now live. And it could be the end of life, too, wiping away the very life it has helped sustain.

The coqui chirping in the night announces his existence and ability to survive. People who live with the coquis in lower Puna now appreciate the coqui’s song, a celebration of life on this sometimes life-threatening tropical island.

Sydney Ross Singer is a Medical Anthropologist and the Director for the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease in Pahoa, Hawaii 

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