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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Protection Secured for |49 Hawaiian Species

WASHINGTON (CN) - Ten animals and 39 plants in Hawaii are now listed as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, but no critical habitat is designated for now. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used an "ecosystem-based" approach to determine the listing status for the 49 species, which are found in 11 distinct ecosystems on the island chain, including coastal, subalpine and anchialine pools.

One of the ten listed animal species is a tiny shrimp that lives in the anchialine pools, which are formed in limestone or volcanic rock near the sea. The pools have underground connections to the sea, and the level of the salty or brackish water can fluctuate with the tides.

More than half of the known anchialine pools in the world are found in the Hawaiian Islands, where the unique species that have evolved in this specialized ecosystem are now threatened by destruction of habitat by filling and bulldozing. The agency estimates that 90 percent of the pools in Hawaii have been destroyed by this method alone.

Additional threats to the pools include trash dumping, pollution with waste water, fertilizers and pesticides, introduction of non-native fish and other species, and climate change-induced sea-level rise.

The pool shrimp is not the only species being listed that is unique to Hawaii. Of the 49 species listed, only one species is found outside the island chain. Just the Hawaii distinct population segment of the band-rumped storm petrel is being listed, though the bird is widely found in tropical and subtropical island groups in the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The other eight animal species include a damselfly and seven species of yellow-faced bees. Of the 63 known varieties of yellow-faced bees in Hawaii, many have already become extinct, and the rest are in danger, the agency said.

The other 39 listed species are plants, many of which have no common names. The plants include a reedgrass, a fern, a palm, a gardenia and two ranunculus species, among many other plants that make the islands so unique.

The listing of these 49 Hawaiian species was spurred by a 2011 settlement agreement between the USFWS and the Center or Biological Diversity (CBD) and its allies. The conservation groups sued the agency over the backlog of species waiting for listing determinations, some for decades. Due to the settlement agreement, the agency developed a court-approved six-year workplan to speed listing decisions, which is winding down as of the end of September.

"I'm relieved these 49 unique Hawaiian plants and animals are finally getting the protection they desperately need to survive," CBD's recovery director Loyal Mehrhoff, said. "The Endangered Species Act has already saved hundreds of Hawaiian species from extinction, so this is great news for these irreplaceable plants and animals." Hawaii has the most listed species of any state, and is "on the front lines of the extinction crisis," the group claimed in it response to the listing announcement.

Invasive species brought into the island chain threaten the native species, which evolved in isolation and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of the intruders. Nonnative plants, feral cats, barn owls, mongoose, black rats, Norway rats, Polynesian rats, feral pigs, goats, axis deer and cattle pose threats to the native plants and animals through displacement, competition, trampling and/or predation.

Climate change, sea-level rise, hurricanes and tsunamis also pose threats to many of the listed species. Small struggling populations can be locally wiped out by severe weather events. Development pressures and recreational activities also have a negative impact on these endangered species.

"Because species that share ecosystems face a suite of shared threats, managing or eliminating these threats holistically at an ecosystem level is more cost effective and should lead to better resource protection for all native species," the agency noted in the listing proposal published last year.

Both federal listing agencies, the USFWS and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, have used the ecosystem-based listing strategy several times before, including for other Hawaiian species, for species in Guam and the Mariana Islands and for both the Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary.

The USFWS says it needs additional time to analyze scientific information to identify appropriate areas for a critical habitat designation for the 49 species listed Friday.

The final listing is effective Oct. 31.

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