Great Escape

A Snail’s Escape from the Eye of the Storm

Inside the race to save endangered wildlife in Hawaii amid the growing threat of climate-related storms

Kim Steutermann Rogers
Published in
6 min readAug 31, 2018
Aug. 23, 2018 — The Wailuku River flood waters run downstream on the Big Island in Hilo, Hawaii. Hurricane Lane has brought more than a foot of rain to some parts of the Big Island which is under a flash flood warning. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty.

Water and ice are two common staples in most hurricane preparedness kits. Fungus is not.

In the face of advancing hurricane winds of 125 miles per hour, the Snail Extinction Prevention Program (SEPP) in Hawaii evacuated its field lab on Aug. 23. They placed 80 terrariums housing 2,000 rare Hawaiian snails in cardboard file boxes and transported them from a marsh on the northeast side of O`ahu to a downtown Honolulu office building. Along with the snails, a four-member crew packed purified water, mist bottles, medical gloves, several coolers full of ice packs, and an extra large portion of food — the fungus that they had painstakingly cultured in Petri dishes.

“If we get wind gusts over 120 miles per hour, our facility — a 44-foot-long modular trailer — could be damaged, or we’d lose access to the site,” says David Sischo, a wildlife biologist with SEPP.

Aug. 24, 2018 —Operation Snail Bail. Photos courtesy of Hawaii DLNR/Dan Dennison.

Hurricane Lane was swirling 260 miles due south of Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city. Yet Sischo’s team chose to move the snails directly into its path because the concrete office building could better withstand the predicted Category 3 hurricane-force winds; and it was situated in a location where, if lost, electricity would quickly be restored. Power is key to raising rare snails in captivity, after all.

“If [the] electricity goes out, the temperature could get too hot in their chambers, and we could experience mass die-offs,” Sischo says. “Our main concern was keeping them cool enough.”

“These are pampered snails.”

Just before slamming into Honolulu, Lane broke apart and took a dog-leg west, passing south of the Hawaiian Island chain. Still, the storm dumped 52 inches of rain in four…



Kim Steutermann Rogers
Writer for

I am a writer covering science nature in Hawaii. Currently, I’m working with Kauai Invasive Species Committee to save ohia, Hawaii’s native tree.