SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (AP) — It’s hard to imagine a tiny, 2-inch frog could cause so much harm.
Beloved in its native Puerto Rico, the coqui frog has become a menace in Hawaii, where it suddenly appeared in the 1990s. With no natural predators, such as snakes, to keep their numbers under control, the frogs and their loud mating calls have multiplied exponentially — causing headaches for homeowners.
Some believe the noisy amphibians also could cause serious damage to Hawaii’s economy if they drag down housing prices, which real estate agents say is a distinct possibility. Officials have begun an extermination effort on several islands, hoping to get the problem under control before long-term economic losses set in.
“This is an invasive species of the worst kind,” said state Rep. Clifton Tsuji, whose Big Island constituents endure choruses of croaking coqui in their back yards. “It’s a species of mass destruction.”
Some parts of the Big Island have infestations so large, authorities have been forced into containment mode.
Brooks Kaiser, a University of Hawaii visiting scholar heading an economic impact study of the coqui, said living next to a major infestation could rival the experience of living next to an airport. Residents, for the most part, agree.
Mac Lowson, president of the Hawaii Association of Realtors, said he is particularly vulnerable to the noise in his town of Kapalua on Maui because he suffers from hyperacusis, a condition that makes him highly sensitive to sounds.
“I would rather probably live next to a highway rather than live next to an area that has the coqui frogs. The coqui frog (sound) is a shrill shriek and then silence,” Mr. Lowson said.
Evidence already is starting to crop up showing the potential for problems.
Sixty-two percent of Big Island real estate agents surveyed last year by University of Hawaii professor Arnold Hara said they were involved in deals affected in some way by the presence of coqui. Nine of the 53 real estate agents said they had handled cases in which home buyers backed out of contracts because the frogs were too loud. One said the presence of coqui had dragged down home prices in an entire subdivision.
The frogs have yet to turn up in big numbers on Oahu, Hawaii’s most populous island. Scott Williamson, an invasive-species biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said authorities are so worried about how serious the problem there could become, they are taking an aggressive approach.
Officials spray the frogs with a deadly mixture of citric acid and water at least four nights a week in the area around the Schofield Barracks Army base, where their numbers are concentrated. The state also has stepped up funding, allocating $300,000 to the counties this year for extermination efforts.
“A few biologists said this is going to be a problem because they have the potential to breed anywhere almost in Hawaii,” Mr. Williamson said. “But nobody really paid any attention. Nobody thought a frog could be a problem.”