Plan aims to increase biosecurity among Hawaiian Islands


Inspectors with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture play a critical role in protecting the state and Maui County from invasive species. The Hawaii Interagency Biosecurity Plan aims to build capacity at HDOA and other organizations as well increase collaboration among agencies to protect Hawaii from invasive pests. -- MASAKO CORDRAY photo

Hawaii has been called the “invasive species capital of the world,” thanks to the amount and type of harmful species coming in, according to Josh Atwood, coordinator of the statewide Hawaii Invasive Species Council.

Many of Hawaii’s troublemakers were introduced over a hundred years ago — strawberry guava and mosquitos, for example — but the arrival of unwelcome guests is hardly a problem of the past. The Ceratocystis fungi, which causes rapid ohia death, is spreading like wildfire across Hawaii island and has since been detected on Kauai. And the coconut rhinoceros beetle, which has wiped out many coconut palms on Guam, is now on Oahu. These invaders showed up within the last 10-15 years. To stop the continued influx of detrimental species and ramp up efforts to address those already present, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture collaborated with the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to create the first Hawaii Interagency Biosecurity Plan. Launched in 2017, the plan identifies 154 actions needed to improve our biosecurity, with a focus on increased collaboration among agencies and outlining funding needs over a 10-year time span.

The biosecurity plan takes a comprehensive approach to the challenge by: 1) incorporating preborder policies and processes, such as inspecting cargo bound for Hawaii before it departs; 2) including efforts at the border, such as improved inspection facilities on all islands and increased staffing levels at points of entry; and 3) enhancing capacity to detect and respond to pests if they do arrive in the state, including preventing their movement between islands.

The plan focuses on biosecurity functions rather than targeting specific species, but Atwood describes how the biosecurity plan could help address one of the biggest threats to our state. “Eight brown tree snakes have already made it to Hawaii. Most of those interceptions happened once planes had landed. If you don’t increase capacity of people looking for pests, some of these species will slip through,” he says.

The plan took a year to write and is designed to be implemented over 10 years. Atwood credits the existing network of dedicated individuals already working on biosecurity. “The key step was identifying the most important gaps and then finding solutions,” he said.

Inspector checking goods to protect Hawaii from invasive pests. -- MASAKO CORDRAY photo

Legislative support and approval are key to implementing the plan and Atwood is encouraged by the results so far: half of the actions in the plan have been initiated since 2017. But the capacity to complete those and some of the more challenging tasks requires increased staffing, which requires funding. In recent years, the Legislature has allocated just 0.4 percent of the state’s budget to HDOA. The Department of Land and Natural Resources, which is also tasked with protecting natural resources from invasive species and other threats, received only 1 percent of the budget.

“At level funding, we can anticipate more invasive species establishing in Hawaii, and control costs will continue to increase,” said Atwood. He views the plan as an essential step moving forward. “We need to do anything we can to save native species, grow our own food, and live meaningful lives here in Hawaii.”

If you would like to learn more about the Hawaii Interagency Biosecurity Plan, including summaries and updates, you can find the complete plan online at

* Lissa Fox Strohecker is the public relations and education specialist for the Maui Invasive Species Committee. She holds a biological sciences degree from Montana State University. “Kia’i Moku,” “Guarding the Island,” is prepared by the Maui Invasive Species Committee to provide information on protecting the island from invasive plants and animals that can threaten the island’s environment, economy and quality of life.