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New pest threatens our ‘tree of life’

Saturday September 22, 2018 Written by Published in Local
The Ministry of Agriculture is asking members of the public to keep an eye out for a new type of coconut rhinoceros beetle, which can destroy coconut trees. 18091740 The Ministry of Agriculture is asking members of the public to keep an eye out for a new type of coconut rhinoceros beetle, which can destroy coconut trees. 18091740

The tree of life could be in danger if a fast spreading beetle comes to the Cook Islands.

 

It is a new type of coconut rhinoceros beetle and has the island’s biosecurity worried.

“The spread of the rhinoceros beetle in the Pacific is damaging and killing coconut trees in Guam and Hawaii and was recently discovered in the Solomon Islands, just west of the Cook Islands,” says Agriculture ministry director of biosecurity services, Ngatoko Ta Ngatoko.

There are two strains, or biotypes of this beetle. The first and older strain could be controlled by pesticides, it moved very slowly and was mostly contained. It is known as the coconut rhinoceros beetle Pacific (CRB-P). The new biotype is resistant to pesticides and is highly invasive, rapidly adapts to its new environment and can cause significant damage. It is called Coconut Rhinoceros beetle Guam (CRB-G).

Since its discovery, new invasions of the beetle have been recorded on the Papua New Guinea mainland, Hawaii, Palau and the Solomon Islands. It has invaded five Pacific Islands in only eight years, compared to the CRB-P type which has not expanded in 40 years.

The new biotype constitutes an emergency risk in the Pacific region if it is not managed effectively. Trees die when the beetles destroy the growing tips of palms.

The beetle can spread between islands through human movement, as well as through imported soil and plant materials. The beetles are attracted to light from boats and aircraft, which can transport them to new locations. And detection of the arrival of the pest is usually not evident until damage to the trees has begun. 

“We have been blessed up to now that such a damaging beetle is not yet established here. So we have to be vigilant in terms of our border activities, as well our public campaigns,” says Ngatoko.

“The tree of life, the coconut is known as a source of economic income and livelihood of our people.”

He says it is important that people are aware of the threat and do everything they can to stop the spread of the beetle.

Anyone who notices damage to coconut trees should report it immediately, Ngatoko says.