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In brief | Big Island & State | 2-3-14

February 4, 2014 - 8:51am

Missing man found dead in pond near Akaka Falls

A missing man was found dead Sunday in a pond, just downstream of Akaka Falls, according to the Hawaii County Fire Department.

While scuba diving and free-diving, fire rescue personnel discovered the body of 53-year-old Jeffrey Reyes at the bottom of the pond around 10 a.m. Sunday. He was extricated and taken to the command post, located at the Akaka Falls State Park parking lot.

The park had been closed while Hawaii Police Department and fire rescue crews searched for Reyes by land and air. They looked for him in the park and trail areas, as well as the surrounding forest and river.

The Police Department received a report that a vehicle was left at the park after closing Friday. It was later discovered the vehicle belonged to Reyes, who was last seen at 8:49 a.m. Friday.

New research offers hope for endangered birds

Warming temperatures due to climate change are exposing endangered Hawaiian forest birds to greater risk of avian malaria. But new research led by the U.S. Geological Survey holds out some hope that the birds may be able to adapt.

For decades, scientists have documented declines and extinctions among species of Hawaiian honeycreepers due to the spread of avian malaria and other diseases. At one time, the Hawaiian Islands had no mosquitoes and no mosquito-borne diseases. But, by the late 1800s, mosquitoes were firmly established in the islands. Another invasive species, such as feral pigs, helped the mosquito population boom by creating larva habitat as they rooted through forests. The honeycreepers had no natural defense against a disease they had never before experienced.

“Honeycreepers are exquisitely sensitive to avian malaria,” said Carter Atkinson, a USGS microbiologist based at the USGS Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center in Hawaii. Atkinson is the lead author of two new research papers examining how climate change is increasing the honeycreepers’ risk of infection.

One paper, accepted for publication by the journal Global Change Biology, confirms that the infection has doubled in the last 20 years among birds in one of the last high elevation refuges in the Hawaiian Islands.

“These increases in infection appear to be driven by a combination of environmental factors,” said Atkinson. “Warming temperatures, decreased precipitation, and changes in streamflow may be allowing mosquitoes and disease transmission to invade the highest reaches of the plateau.”

The other paper, published in EcoHealth, reveals how a rapidly expanding, low elevation population of a honeycreeper species, the amakihi, on the Big Island has developed a tolerance for the disease. In this study, Atkinson and his research team captured birds from the low-elevation population and from a higher elevation site.

Results showed that the low elevation amakihi were able to tolerate infection much better than birds from higher elevation. Mortality rates were lower, and the low elevation birds lost less weight and maintained normal food consumption.

“The emergence of this population provides an exceptional opportunity for determining the physiological mechanisms and genetic markers associated with malaria tolerance,” Atkinson said. “Adaptation may be the best long-term hope for recovery for many of these species.”

Park allowed to care for monk seals in captivity

HONOLULU — A federal permit has been issued to Sea Life Park Hawaii on Oahu to continue to maintain and provide routine animal husbandry and veterinary care for up to four nonreleasable Hawaiian monk seals at its exhibit, according to a notice from the the state Office of Environmental Quality’s Environmental.

Located on Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo, Sea Life Park Hawaii currently has one adult female monk seal that was rescued for rehabilitation purposed in 1986 and deemed nonreleasable. With this permit, the park will maintain seals removed from the wild in permanent captivity. These endangered seals will be made available for scientific studies by researchers whose research protocols are approved by the park’s curator and staff veterinarian and authorized under separate permits.

A public conservation and education lecture will be conducted daily concerning the seals’ status and educational descriptive signs with current information are on display at this exhibit.

The permit expires Nov. 30, 2018. A final determination was recently made, stating the proposed activities by Sea Life Park Hawaii were excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. The public has until Feb. 10 to submit written comments pertaining to this permit to the Pacific Islands Region, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1601 Kapiolani Boulevard, Room 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814-4700, or by via fax to 973-2941.

For more information, call Amy Sloan or Jennifer Skidmore at (301) 427-8401.

87-year-old Utah man dies after fall on cruise

HONOLULU — An 87-year-old Utah man has died after a fall on a Hawaiian cruise ship.

Honolulu authorities say James C. Harte of Salt Lake City died Friday night at an Oahu hospital, four days after the accident off Hawaii Island.

Harte was a passenger aboard the ship when he fell and hit his head. He was taken to the Oahu hospital for further treatment on Thursday. Police do not suspect foul play.

An autopsy is scheduled for today.

Hawaii visitor arrivals down for 4th month

HONOLULU — Tourism officials say Hawaii welcomed fewer visitors for the fourth straight month in December.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said Thursday more than 720,000 travelers came to the islands during the month. That’s 1.9 percent less than the same month the previous year.

Spending by visitors also declined for the fourth straight month.

The agency says airline fuel surcharges and less favorable currency exchange rates have slowed bookings and hampered growth.

Even so, the number of visitors to the islands hit a record 8.2 million for the full year. This exceeds the previous record of 8 million marked in 2012.

Tourism Authority CEO Mike McCartney says the slowing trend will likely continue during the first half of 2014. He says the agency is adjusting its marketing plans.

By local and wire sources

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