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Sleepless in Hawaii

Insomniac islanders are hopping mad over a tiny frog from that threatens their fragile ecosystem

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The frogs have joined termites and volcano zones as possible deal breakers in property sales. Broker Dave Lucas lost one sale when potential buyers made a sunset inspection of property on which they'd put a contract. "They sent in a cancellation the next day," says Lucas. "They said there's no way we're living by these frogs." The Hawaii Island Board of Realtors is urging its clients to spray their properties.

State authorities continue to search for eradication tools. Caffeine spray, which induces a heart attack in coquis, seemed promising until it ran up against animal rights activists and federal pesticide regulations. Even the most successful weapon, the food additive citric acid, can harm flowers. And it is far from foolproof against frogs that take cover in dense underbrush. "It's a pretty major undertaking to wipe out a population with spray," Woolbright says. "You would have to do a pretty thorough job of saturating everything from the canopy to the forest floor, and then you'd still miss the one that went to bed early that night."

The cash-strapped state has had little money to earmark for the problem, focusing instead on public education programs and inspection of nursery shipments between the islands to prevent further invasion. Earl Campbell, the Pacific region's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invasive species coordinator, wrote in 2002 (along with biologist Fred Kraus) that control efforts "have been hampered by limited authorities and funds, disbelief in the threat and the reluctance to act." Still, Campbell believes that a high-level Hawaii Invasive Species Council, formed this year, "can prevent the next coqui."

As for the coqui plague itself, state officials believe that aggressive spraying and clearing of underbrush can prevent their spread throughout most of the Hawaiian archipelago. But experts tend to talk in terms of containment rather than eradication on the Big Island. Which means that Helen Geiger and her neighbors may have to invest in some good earplugs.

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