Beetle pest’s comeback could be devastating for Pacific economies

Beetle pest’s comeback could be devastating for Pacific economies

  10 Jan 2017

 

Pacific countries are being urged to act swiftly to counter a fast spreading pest which could have a devastating impact on their economies.

The coconut rhinoceros beetle, which was virtually wiped out in the region 50 years ago is making a comeback, spreading its larvae at alarming rates. [restrict]

Island nations are being urged to act swiftly to counter the fast spreading pest.

“This is probably one of the most important things we need to do now, certainly as soon as possible. There is some urgency,” said Colin Tukuitonga from the regional group Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

That’s because the beetle eats coconut tree fronds, burrowing into the crown and affecting growth.

In parts of Samoa, it’s ravaging the trees.

“It’s very serious at the moment. Now in some areas we see there is a lot of damage in our coconut,” said Billy Fuifatu, senior research officer with MAF Samoa.

If the beetle spreads unchecked, the economic impact will be devastating.

“In the Solomon Islands, for example, they estimate they could lose $US10 million if the rhinoceros beetle gets even more traction there. So it’s significant,” Mr Tukuitonga said.

On coral atolls, many affected by climate change, the coconut tree is the only thing that grows. It’s a life source.

“Everybody should come together. And I urge the Forum too to address this because it will affect all of us,” said Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, Samoa MAF Minister.

Samoa is already taking action. Agricultural staff have developed a virus and fungus to kill the pest – without harming humans.

“There are control measures in place like pheromone traps, the biological control agents and also the sanitation programme,” Mr Fuifatu said.

Villages have been recruited to help clean up breeding sites and collect the pest.

Over nine months this year MAF workers and villagers have collected more than 20,000 rhinoceros beetles in their various stages.

While Samoa’s focus is to control the beetle, Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao says it needs to be a regional effort “so that each and every island will treat it at the same time – not [allow] the rhinoceros beetle to move from Samoa to American Samoa to Tokelau to Samoa again”.

Regional group, SPC is negotiating with international partners to get more help, that’s desperately needed, for the region.  PACIFIC ISLAND [/restrict]