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Cyanotech to protect Kealakehe sewer birds

August 16, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — Endangered coots and stilts that call the Kealakehe sewer treatment plant home will get a little extra protection, thanks to a business seeking to offset bird losses on its own site.

Cyanotech Corp., a company that developed proprietary methods of growing, processing and drying micro-algae for nutritional supplements, uses 67 raceway ponds comprising about 48 acres of man-made open-water habitat at its site about 4 miles north of the sewer plant.

To mitigate loss of bird habitat at its own site, the company wants to conduct monitoring and protection of the endangered birds at the sewer plant, under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife under the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Cyanotech is asking the county to give it access to the facility for three years. It would not charge the county for its work, Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski told West Hawaii Today outside the meeting.

“It’s a good deal,” Kucharski said. “We would still be looking out for the birds.”

The council’s Environmental Management Committee on Tuesday unanimously forwarded the plan, Resolution 250, to the council for one more vote.

Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha questioned whether an alternate nesting site could be found for the birds, but Kohala Councilman Tim Richards was more philosophical.

“It’s the location that these birds choose, but that’s their choosing,” Richard said.

The 12-acre sewer plant attracts 75-85 percent of all water birds found in West Hawaii, according to a letter from Hoomaluo LLC biologist Scott Waddington, who has done contract work for both the county Department of Environmental Management and Cyanotech. He’s now representing Cyanotech on the mitigation project.

Hilo Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, the committee chairwoman, asked that Waddington appear at the council meeting to answer questions, especially as the project pertains to trapping of feral cats.

Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles wanted assurances that poison wouldn’t be used.

Waddington proposes a three-pronged approach to remove predators such as mongooses, feral cats and cattle egrets at the sewer site. Previous work has shown a ratio of 31.4 mongooses to each cat, his letter said.

The first prong will install 10 Doc-250 lethal traps along the inside fence line. The second prong will deploy Hav-A-Heart live traps for feral cats, which will be taken to the Hawaii Island Humane Society.

The third prong will use a .22 caliber air rifle to shoot egrets before dawn as they roost at the facility. The gun is nearly silent because it is subsonic, Waddington said in the letter. It’s estimated more than 100 egrets roost at the sewer plant.

The endangered coots and stilts seem to be thriving at the sewer plant, with 30 fledglings counted during the recently concluded nesting season, said Kucharski. Nesting season, when the birds construct ground nests of rocks and plastic, is generally from May to August.

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