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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Larva killer to be used in refuge on Maui

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KIHEI, Maui — Scientists say they may have found a way to control most of the midges that swarm out of Kealia Pond each winter and annoy residents of the neighboring Sugar Beach condominiums.

The results of a seven-week research project conducted from January to March at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge found that the larvicide methoprene was effective in preventing up to 90 percent of the spot-winged midges from becoming flying adults.

That's good news for the condominium residents, who otherwise endure thick swarms of the gnat-like insects that are attracted to building lights at dawn and dusk during winter and early spring.

"Getting rid of 90 percent of a plague might still be a plague,'' said Gary Elster, president of the Friends of Kealia and a condominium resident. "We'll probably still see midges, but they will be substantially reduced, maybe from a nuisance to a little bother. If that happens, I'm sure everybody will be jumping up and down.''

But the trick is to duplicate the research on a larger scale — and that's going to begin in the coming weeks, wildlife refuge manager Glynnis Nakai said.

In the second phase, methoprene will be applied over more than 60 percent of the pond — 110 acres — just as the midges begin to emerge into adulthood, Nakai said.

The condominium residents will be surveyed to help judge the effectiveness of the treatments, she said.

Traps containing a light source will be placed in condo buildings, allowing researchers to count the insects reaching the buildings.

Nakai said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn't out to exterminate the midges, because they remain an important food source for the endangered Hawaiian stilt and Hawaiian coot. The goal is to reduce the presence of midges to a level people can accept.

Nakai also said that the larvicide is only a temporary remedy and that scientists are studying "the dynamics of the pond and the life cycle of the midges'' so the insects could be controlled "more naturally.'' The Interior Department has provided about $750,000 for research this year.