Rapid Ohia Death Continues March Across Big Island Native Forests

A series of aerial surveys of six Hawaiian Islands reveals that the fungal disease, known as Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death has impacted nearly 50,000 acres of native forest on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. That’s an increase of some 13,000 acres from surveys done earlier in 2016. “It’s important to note that the aerial surveys still need verification by conducting ground-truthing and lab tests,” said Philipp Lahaela Walter, State Resource & Survey Forester for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). While some of the increase is due to expanding the survey area, much of it is due to new tree mortality.

Images courtesy of DLNR

Images courtesy of DLNR

Lahaela Walter and his team flew in helicopters over vast tracts of forest on Hawai‘i Island, O‘ahu, Maui, Moloka‘i, Kaua‘i, and Lana‘i, criss-crossing the landscape to look for tell-tale signs of the disease. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, first described by scientists as a previously unknown fungus in 2014, kills trees indiscriminately and often quite quickly. “While we believe, based on the aerial survey work, that the disease continues to destroy hundreds of thousands of native ‘ohi‘a lehua on the Big Island, we saw scant evidence that the fungus is killing trees on the other islands. We did spot trees that could be dying of other causes, but so far none of the samples has been positive for the fungus (Cereatocystis) that causes Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. Again we need to conduct ground surveys and either confirm or discount the presence of the disease in laboratory tests,” added Lahaela Walter. On the Big Island, just over 47,000 acres or nine percent (9%) of the forest surveyed showed symptoms of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death; brown or no leaves.

rod2“The quarantine measures put into place by the Hawai‘i Dept. of Agriculture appear to be stopping its spread to other islands,” according to DOFAW’s Rob Hauff. “These rules require inspections of soil and plant materials and prohibit, except by permit, interisland movement of any part of a native ‘ohi‘a tree,” Hauff said.

Highly valued for their beauty and significance in Hawaiian culture, native ‘ohi‘a lehua forests cover approximately 865,000 acres of land across the state and are considered the primary species providing habitat for countless plants, animals and invertebrates. These forests protect watersheds that provide significant agriculture and drinking water across the state. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death threatens the State’s tropical forests and delicate ecosystems and ultimately could jeopardize local water supplies and Hawaiʻi’s economic vitality.

rod3The University of Hawai‘i Cooperative Extension Service and the USDA Agricultural Research Service assisted with planning for the helicopter surveys using specialized equipment. A team of experts from DLNR/DOFAW, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, Hawaii’s Invasive Species Committees, and the National Park Service/Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park conducted the surveys.

Research into treatments for the particular fungus that causes Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death continues at the USDA Agricultural Research Service lab in Hilo. Investigation into how it spreads is also being conducted with potential culprits being: insects, underground via roots, on small wood or dust particles, on shoes and equipment, and possibly on animals. Ultimately scientists hope that by identifying what is spreading the fungus they’ll be able to mitigate its devastating impacts.


In announcing additional funding for the fight against Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death, Hawai‘i U.S. Senator Brian Schatz said, “This is an ecological emergency, and it requires everyone working together to save Hawai‘i Island’s native forests. I’m pleased to see our federal partners step up to help. The additional funding will make a big difference, and it will give us the tools to understand the disease, develop better management responses, and protect our ‘Ōhiʻa.”

Lawmaker Ing Calls for AG Opinion on Fishing Vessel Controversy, Seeks Injunction

Representative Kaniela Ing, Chairperson of the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources, and Hawaiian Affairs today sent a letter to Attorney General Douglas Chin requesting an opinion on the alleged unfair labor and business practices conducted outside Piers 17 and 38 at Honolulu Harbor.

Click to read allegations

Click to read allegations

“I am extremely alarmed by recent reports of the gross mistreatment of workers aboard American fishing vessels right here in our Aloha State,” Ing said. “If these investigations hold any validity, we must act swiftly to end any human rights violations occurring on our docks.”

Ing believes that, while the fishing vessels operate in federal waters in accordance to federal law, vessel operators conduct business under a license with the State of Hawaii, therefore subjecting them to State regulation. Ing’s letter asks whether “the (reported) acts…constitute a restraint of trade or other anti-competitive practices prohibited by HRS§480-13.”

Ing explains: “the first step is requesting an Attorney General’s opinion, which he is required to publish under a legislator’s request. An affirmative answer will likely lead to an injunction that will halt any labor or business violations. A non-affirmative answer illuminates the need for bill that clarifies our ‘anti-competitive practices’ statute, which I am committed to pursue”

Ing believes this issue highlights a larger issue of the abuse of undocumented workers.

“Without any legal recourse, millions of undocumented workers suffer through starvation wages and inhumane work environments across America,” Ing said. “It’s an issue too often ignored by mainstream politics. We can all agree that any abuse of any human being has no place in our Aloha State. These investigations reveal why we must act now.”

Genki Sushi Receives Approval From Hawaii Department of Health to Reopen After Hepatitis A Outbreak

Genki Sushi announced today it has received approval from the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) to reopen its restaurants after full compliance with the department’s strict conditions, including confirmation that none of its employees scheduled to work for the reopening tested positive for hepatitis A. Genki Sushi will reopen all 10 of its restaurants on Oahu tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 10). Genki’s only restaurant on Kauai will remain closed temporarily to complete renovations already underway.

genki-sushi“Serving safe, high-quality food is always our top priority and we deeply regret that the ongoing investigation by the Department of Health is indicating that customers may have become ill from a food product that our restaurants on Oahu and Kauai received from a distributor,” said Mary Hansen, chief administrative officer for Genki Sushi USA. “After being informed by the Department of Health of its decision to temporarily close some of our restaurants while it investigated the source of the illness, we worked cooperatively with health officials to take the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of our customers, our employees and the community. We are now pleased to reopen our Oahu restaurants and appreciate the understanding and support of our customers during this period.”

Genki has been closely communicating with DOH to determine what the company needed to do in order to eliminate any potential sources of the infection from its restaurants and meet specific requirements from the DOH to resume operations.

 “The management team of Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai has given us their full cooperation, and the department is confident that they are in compliance with all health regulations,” said Dr. Virginia Pressler, director of the Hawaii Department of Health. “Genki Sushi has been cleared by the Department of Health to reopen to the public.”

While DOH directives only called for the disposal of opened containers or packages of food items that may have been exposed, Genki Sushi made the decision to discard all produce and food items that could have been exposed, and sanitized sealed food packages as specified by the DOH. In addition, all single-serve equipment or utensils such as napkins, chopsticks, cups and takeout containers were also discarded.

Following state guidelines, all food and non-food-contact surfaces throughout each of the restaurants were completely disinfected with DOH-approved sanitizing formulas. The surfaces, including counters, machines, equipment, floors and walls throughout the kitchens, dining rooms, restrooms and employee areas were scrubbed and rinsed.

“We greatly appreciate the ongoing assistance and guidance provided by the Department of Health throughout this situation as we focused on the common goal of protecting the public’s health,” said Hansen.

All employees scheduled to work in the impacted restaurants were screened, tested and vaccinated for the hepatitis A virus subject to DOH standards and all of the test results were negative. The DOH also conducted food safety classes for Genki employees at each restaurant site which were based on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manual on hygiene and food safety. Genki Sushi will continue to follow the FDA manual on hygiene and food safety in addition to the company’s regular employee training and policies.

“Our entire staff has shown tremendous resiliency and teamwork in doing what was needed to reopen our restaurants so we can continue to serve our customers in the safest manner possible,” said Hansen. “It is very reassuring that none of our employees tested positive for the virus and we are happy that they can get back to work when the restaurants reopen. At the same time, our hearts go out to those who have the illness and hope for their speedy recovery.

“Genki Sushi is a longtime member of the local community with over 350 enthusiastic employees, and our restaurants have been venues for countless birthday and graduation parties and family get-togethers. We want to make sure that our customers can rest assured when they come in for sushi that they will be served safe, high-quality food,” added Hansen.

Genki Sushi remains committed to continuing to enforce its food safety and sanitation program and will work with health officials to make any recommended improvements to its policies and procedures. These efforts include continuing to require all of its managers to be ServSafe certified, a training program administered by the National Restaurant Association.

Genki is also taking additional steps beyond required state rules to ensure the long-term health and safety of its restaurants. Genki will also work with all its vendors to improve food safety policies and procedures. The company will continue to require that all its vendors are certified and follow Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) management systems for addressing food safety and handling, as well as FDA and DOH policies and regulations.

Satellite Image Shows New Breakout on Lava Flow Field

This satellite image was captured on Thursday, September 8, by the Advanced Land Imager instrument onboard NASA’s Earth Observing 1 satellite. The image is provided courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Although this is a false-color image, the color map has been chosen to mimic what the human eye would expect to see. Bright red pixels depict areas of very high temperatures and show active lava. White areas are clouds.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Over the past few weeks, lava on the episode 61g flow has been mostly confined to subsurface lava tubes, with little activity on the surface. This image shows that a new surface breakout has appeared near the base of the pali, with lava extending about 1 km (0.6 miles) onto the coastal plain. This breakout is fed by lava breaking out of the lava tube onto the surface. Small amounts of surface lava (red pixels) are also present at the ocean entry, where lava is spilling into the water.

Kilauea’s Lava Lake at High Level

On Wednesday evening (September 7), the lava lake at Kīlauea’s summit reached a high level, about 8 m (26 feet) below the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. This panorama shows the former Halemaʻumaʻu Overlook (closed since 2008 due to volcanic hazards) at the far left.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Jaggar Museum, visible on the skyline in the upper right part of the photo, is a popular destination in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park for viewing the lava lake activity and spattering lake surface.

A closer look at Kīlauea's summit lava lake on Wednesday evening, around 6:30 p.m., when the lake was just 8 meters (26 feet) below the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.

A closer look at Kīlauea’s summit lava lake on Wednesday evening, around 6:30 p.m., when the lake was just 8 meters (26 feet) below the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Recognizes Hawaii Teachers Selected for Presidential Award

Today in Washington, DC, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard recognized Hawaiʻi teachers selected for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) and presented them with a Congressional certificate. Five Hawaiʻi teachers were amongst the 213 math and science teachers around the country selected for the award. The 2016 Hawaiʻi awardees are:

  • Alicia Nakamitsu, AieaHigh School
  • Eliza Yoshida, Pu’u Kukui Elementary School
  • Stan Mesina, August Ahrens Elementary School
  • Bryan Silver, Kalani High School
  • Patricia Urasky, Waimea High School

The PAEMST is awarded to outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country. The winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process at the state level.

(Left to right) Alicia Nakamitsu, Bryan Silver, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Eliza Yoshida, Stan Mesina

(Left to right) Alicia Nakamitsu, Bryan Silver, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Eliza Yoshida, Stan Mesina

Awards were given to K-12 teachers from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Department of Defense Education Activity schools, and the U.S. territories as a group (American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands). Each awardee received a citation signed by President Obama, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and travel to Washington, DC for an award ceremony held yesterday.