WAILUA, Kauai — To the average person, the term “bio-sanitation” may sound like something associated with the vernacular of terrorism.
But about 15 operators of hiking tours and other ecotourism businesses who gathered Wednesday were told the term really has to do with the need for them and backcountry users to take much more consistent precautions to ensure that invasive species don’t get from one place to another on the shoes and clothing of unwitting hikers.
The workshop was sponsored by the University of Hawaii and the Kauai Invasive Species Committee, along with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Similar events have been staged on Hawaii Island, but Wednesday’s was the first involving Kauai ecotourism operators.
Tiffani Keanini, manager of KISC, told participants that they and their clients may be the first line of detection for invasive plant and animal species that show up on Kauai — observing them long before government agencies.
“You are our eyes and ears. You are out on the trail,” Keanini told the tour operators. “If you see something, call it in and let us know.”
The workshop came just weeks after an announcement that one of the two versions of rapid ohia death already infecting Hawaii Island and Kauai has now been found in two more locations on Kauai on top of a previously discovered site near Moloaa. The two new ones were discovered using computer mapping from helicopters.
Ohias are flowering evergreen trees endemic to Hawaii.
It’s unknown exactly how rapid ohia death spreads, and the locations where it has been found on Kauai are actually off hiking trails and thus unlikely to have been visited by ecotour operators. Hikers out on their own or hunters may have been responsible.
There are two varieties of ROD, the less lethal of which, huliohia, is found on both Hawaii Island and Kauai. Lukohia, the more draconian strain, has so far been found only on the Big Island.
In most backcountry tour operations, visitors are accustomed to riding in mud-covered vehicles. They generally don’t worry about thoroughly brushing and cleaning their shoes and clothing after each hike.
In tours that visit more than one site on the same day, observing a bio-sanitation protocol at each location may be required. Hikers who are not part of organized tours should observe the same protocols.
Even though the exact way ROD spreads isn’t known, Keanini said plenty of invasive vegetation and animals can hitchhike from site to site. These range from plants to fire ants. Tour operators, workshop participants were told, should insist that everyone brush off footgear and clothing, spray cleaned items with alcohol or diluted bleach and be fastidious about washing everything worn on a hiking day immediately.
In some situations, it may be actually preferable to destroy clothing worn on a hike.
Each seminar participant received a kit in a waterproof plastic tub that includes a boot scrubber, clothing brushes, sprayable alcohol and bleach, a bio-sanitation checklist and a stock of public education materials on ROD and other invasive species risks. The kits were supplied by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, an agency not known until very recently for supporting practical, on-the-ground tourism safety programs.
Vehicles must be approached in the same way, said J.B. Friday, a University of Hawaii ROD expert as he demonstrated what he was talking about by crawling under a pickup with a pressure washer and pointing out areas like fender wells and spaces behind bumpers where seeds, ants and even small animals may congregate to hitch a ride from one locations to another.
Friday was blunt.
“We all have to up our game in terms of bio-sanitation,” he said. Practices that may seem overly cautious today and not in the routine procedures ecotour companies follow may mean the difference in holding the line against the spread of invasive species, he said.
The tour operators were enthusiastic recipients of the information and many said they would begin adopting the recommendations. Coco Camero, operator of Kauai Soul Travel, said she would introduce the enhanced practices immediately.
“It only makes sense,” she said.
Joshua Nipp, of Off the Beaten Path Kauai, said he welcomed the new information. He said he and other tour operators have long been concerned about how they and their clients may unwittingly introduce invasive species to new areas.
“Hopefully, this will help educate our visitors and help stop the spread of invasive species,” Nipp said.
ROD has received a lot of publicity since KISC disclosed Nov. 30 that huliohiahad been discovered in two more places on Kauai. The locations, which have not been identified for fear they would attract curiosity seekers, are on privately owned land in Halelea Moku and near Lihue-Koloa Forest, from 600 to 1,600 feet above sea level, according to KISC.
Tour operators were told, for example, that if they plan to take a group of visitors to three locations during a single day that they should sequence the destinations by visiting the one least infected by invasives first, followed by more infected areas. That way, tour companies can avoid inadvertent transfer of pathogens.
Each time they come in off the trail, visitors should brush their clothing and shoes, then spray alcohol or diluted bleach on each article of clothing.
If guides see plants or animals that seem out of place, they are encouraged to photograph them and notify state officials.
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