In the last half-century, disease-carrying mosquitoes helped wipe out several Hawaiian forest bird species and, in the next few years, more species are poised for extinction without scientific intervention.

Welsh artist Ralph Steadman depicted this mosquito as part of an effort to raise awareness for endangered species. Courtesy: Ralph Steadman

Extinction prevention is unlikely to succeed, however, without the development of new tools to fight avian disease, such as a method of so-called mosquito birth control.

On Friday the U.S. Department of Interior announced a $14 million investment to help Hawaii address the extinction crisis facing the state’s native forest birds.

The largest share of the funding — $6.5 million — will help the state Department of Land and Natural Resources develop a new conservation tool that would control mosquitoes in the birds’ habitat by inhibiting their ability to produce fertile offspring, setting in motion an historic first attempt at landscape-scale mosquito control. The money would also improve efforts to breed honeycreepers in captivity at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Maui Bird Conservation Center so that these new offspring can one day augment bird populations in the wild.

At Haleakala National Park, the National Park Service will funnel $6 million to help bring down the mosquito population in a last refuge of the vulnerable orange-billed iiwi and secretive kiwikiu, of which there are only 135 surviving birds in the wild on Maui.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office is set to receive $1 million to prop up endemic species extinction prevention efforts, including tools aimed at suppressing invasive mosquito populations in forest bird habitat.

Nearly $600,000 will fund mosquito vector management projects at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center.

We appreciate gifts of any amount

Civil Beat is a nonprofit, reader-supported newsroom based in Hawaii. When you give, your donation is combined with gifts from thousands of your fellow readers, and together you help power the strongest team of investigative journalists in the state.

Every little bit helps. Will you join us?

About the Author