Lawsuit prompts protection of endangered Big Island plants and animals

Media release from the Center for Biological Diversity

15 Big Island Plants and Animals, Plus 19,000 Hawaiian Acres, Proposed for
Endangered Species Act Protection

HONOLULU— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protection today for 15 species on the island of Hawaii, with 18,766 acres (29 square miles) of habitat. The decision stems from a 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity requiring the agency to speed protection decisions for 757 species around the country. Thirteen plants, a picture-wing fly and an anchialine pool shrimp were proposed for protection.

“Hawaii’s home to an amazing diversity of plants and animals, but many of them are on the razor’s edge of extinction. I’m thrilled to see these unique species being proposed for the Endangered Species Act protection that can save them,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center.

Seven of the 15 species being proposed for listing — five plants, the pool shrimp and the picture-wing fly — have been on the “candidate” waiting list since before 2004, when the Center petitioned for their federal protection.

The anchialine pool shrimp lives only on the Big Island and nowhere else in the world; only five individuals of the species have ever been seen. Anchialine pools are land-locked bodies of water that have underground connections to the sea and show tidal fluctuations in water level. The pool shrimp is threatened by degraded water quality due to siltation, which harms the algae, bacteria and small invertebrates it feeds on. Its body is two inches long; it has two-inch antennae and eyestalks, but no eyes. One of the most primitive shrimp species in the world, it can only swim forward, whereas most shrimp can also swim backward.

The picture-wing fly was discovered in 1968. Adults are less than a quarter-inch in length and have brownish-yellow bodies, yellow legs and shiny, clear wings with prominent brown spots. They are dependent on one specific host plant to reproduce, laying their eggs only on decaying stems of Charpentiera plants. Adults live for one to two months. Historically there were five known sites for the fly, but today it survives in only two places, the Manuka Natural Area Reserve and the Olaa Forest Reserve. The fly is threatened by forces that harm its host plant, including browsing by goats, pigs and cattle; invasive plants; fire; drought; and hurricanes. It is also threatened by predation from non-native wasps.

The 13 plants being proposed for protection are threatened by habitat loss, agriculture, urban development, feral pigs and goats, invasive plants, wildfire, hurricanes and drought.

The Service is proposing 18,766 acres of “critical habitat” to protect the kookoolau — a yellow flower in the aster family — due to the imminent threat of urban development to 98 percent of the individuals known for this species. The habitat is also being designated to protect two previously listed plants, the wahinenohokula and the uhiuhi, that occur in the same lowland dry areas as the kookoolau. Approximately 55 percent of the area being proposed as critical habitat is already designated as critical habitat for 42 other protected plants and the Blackburn’s sphinx moth.

In addition to the seven candidate species, the Service is proposing to protect four plants that have been identified as the “rarest of the rare” by the Plant Extinction Prevention Program. They each have fewer than 50 individuals surviving in the wild and are in need of immediate action to conserve them. The Service is proposing to protect four additional plants at risk of extinction that occur in the same areas and face the same threats as the other proposed plants.

“The Endangered Species Act has been 99 percent effective at preventing the extinction of the plants and animals under its care. I’m hopeful its protection, coming in the nick of time, will be able to save the picture-wing fly, anchialine pool shrimp, and these unique Hawaiian plants,” said Curry.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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