Lehua Island, Hawai‘i is located about 19 miles (30.6 km) southwest of Kaua‘i. It is a 111 hectare, crescent-shaped, uninhabited island administered by the US Coast Guard and managed by the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources as a State Seabird Sanctuary.
ehua Island, Hawai’i is home to one of the largest and most diverse seabird breeding colonies in the main Hawai’ian Islands. However, attempts by the IUCN Endangered Newell’s Shearwater to establish a breeding colony on Lehua have failed since the introduction of invasive, nonnative predators. With the removal of invasive rats, and owls successfully controlled, Lehua will become a key breeding site and the largest invasive mammal-free habitat for this highly imperiled seabird.
The island’s plant community experienced a reprieve when invasive rabbits were removed from Lehua in 2006 by a partnership including the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and Island Conservation; however, rats continue to threaten the island’s plants through herbivory and seed predation. High offshore islands like Lehua are critically important to the long-term conservation of threatened species in Hawai‘i as they are less likely to be affected by increases in sea level associated with climate change.
1. NEWELL’S SHEARWATER
IUCN Endangered Newell’s Shearwater breeding colonies are restricted to the mountainous regions of the main Hawai’ian Islands; however, birds attempting to breed at these sites often fall prey to invasive predators, collide with powerlines, or are disoriented by bright lights. Once free of invasive predators, Lehua Island will provide ideal breeding habitat for this threatened seabird. Remains of a Newell’s Shearwater chick have been found on Lehua Island, demonstrating that this species is attempting to nest there; and with predator removal, they can breed there.
Photo: Brenda Zaun/USFWS
2. CULTURALLY SIGNIFICANT
Hawai’ian cultural sites on Lehua date back as far as 700 years ago. Today, native Hawai’ian residents of Ni‘ihau and Kaua‘i occasionally visit Lehua to fish and collect opihi (marine limpets, pictured) and limu (seaweed or algae), and ecotourists visit the waters surrounding the island to view the wildlife above and below the waves.
Photo: Nate Gary
3. BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS
With 95 percent of the world’s Black-footed Albatross population breeding in the low-lying atolls of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, the population of Black-footed Albatross on Lehua is extremely important. Lehua Island is home to the only documented population found in the US. Lehua is also one of the few “high islands” where Black-footed Albatross nest, a factor that can help protect this population from sea-level rise due to climate change.
4. PROTECTING NATIVE PLANTS
Following removal of invasive rabbits in 2006, the National Tropical Botanical Garden began to restore the island’s native plant species. While many Hawai’ian plant species (such as naio, pictured, and aweoweo) have been re-established in the absence of rabbits, invasive rats continue to thwart further restoration efforts by consuming precious seeds and seedlings.
Photo: Forest & Kim Starr
To facilitate the restoration of Lehua Island by working with partners to remove invasive rats and Barn Owls and enable the recovery of threatened and endangered species.
Lehua Island is one day a predator-free, fully protected refuge for threatened and endangered Hawai’ian species, including many facing extinction from sea-level rise related to climate change.
Invasive rats and nonnative Barn Owls are having an ecosystem wide impact on Lehua Island by predating native plant seeds and seabird chicks, eggs, and adults.
Removal of invasive species will provide safe breeding habitat for Hawai’ian seabird species, allow for the regeneration of native plants, and create a potential translocation site for species threatened by sea-level rise. Island Conservation is working with the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Coast Guard, the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and Pacific Rim Conservation to explore options to restore Lehua Island by removing the invasive rats.
Patty has a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Her doctoral work focused on the evolution of phenotypes in seabirds and she conducted field work mostly in the Galapagos islands. After returning to her home country of Brazil, she took on leadership roles for Conservation International. At CI-Brazil, she directed the Amazon Program (2009-2011) and served as Director of Governance and Policies (2011-2015). She has worked extensively with NGOs, governments, and conservation networks to advance conservation on the ground. She has recently joined Island Conservation as Hawaii Program Manager.