- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Catch them if you can: The endless battle against pests
Regional strategy to mitigate the invasive species crisis is focused on Guam
Eradicating invasive species on Guam and other Pacific islands is a holy grail. These pests multiply faster than biosecurity experts can find a kill-all solution. Baiting brown tree snakes with acetaminophen-laced rats, trapping rhino beetles and applying insecticides on little fire-ant colonies are patchy attempts at curbing their population explosion. Agriculture officials acknowledged it’s too late to clear the infestations.
“Part of the problem with defining solutions is that there is so much that is still unknown,” said James Stanford, regional invasive species coordinator for the Micronesia Islands Forum Secretariat. “Another large part of the problem is that new pests continue to arrive and environmental changes continue to occur and both of these factors compound the issues when considering things at a landscape or seascape scale or at community levels, as most things are inter-related and interact. i.e. systems are fluid.”
The regional strategy has since switched focus toward advancing the overall reduction in threats and impacts on the environment. These invasive species cause extensive damage to natural resources and biodiversity, climate resilience, culture and way of life, health economics and security.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the brown tree snake infestation has caused the extinction of some of Guam’s endemic species, leaving only two of the island’s 12 native forest bird species intact.
In July, the Department of the Interior released $2.8 million in fiscal year 2018 grant funding to suppress and control the brown tree snake, which arrived on Guam on a military ship 60 years ago. USDA said about $4 million is lost annually in productivity from snakes electrocuting themselves on power lines, and one out of 1,000 emergency room visits results from a snake bite.
In October, the Joint Region Marianas with its local and federal partners, conducted an aerial bait application at Andersen Air Force Base. “Unlike past efforts of aerial brown tree snake suppression, the purpose of this project is the significant suppression of snakes from the 136-acre habitat management unit at Andersen Air Force Base" said Albert Borja, environmental director for Marine Corps Activity Guam.
The coconut rhinoceros beetle has also been a pressing problem on Guam, Palau and Hawaii. The voracious rhino beetle has been attacking coconut trees on Guam since it was first discovered in 2007. Palms are damaged when adult beetles bore into the crowns of palms to feed on sap.
“If we do not control the current rhino beetle outbreak on Guam, it will only end when the beetles run out of food. Which means most of Guam’s palm trees will be killed, as happened in Palau after WW II,” Dr. Aubrey Moore, an entomologist at the University of Guam, wrote in an article for the Pacific Island Times in February this year. “If current outbreaks in the Pacific cannot be suppressed, it is only a matter of time until this biotype invades other islands through accidental transport. If CRB-G (Guam genetic variety) reaches atolls where the coconut palm is the tree of life this will be a human tragedy, possibly displacing islanders to larger population centers.”
These invasive species cause extensive impacts to natural resources and biodiversity, climate resilience, culture and way of life, health economics and security.
In September, the Micronesia Chief Executives Regional Invasive Species Council, with 38 members and supporters, met on Guam for a week-long workshop with partners to improve regional efforts toward addressing impacts and reducing risks from invasive species.
“In regards to outcomes from the recent workshop, there were a handful of solid next steps that the council will work on,” Stanford said.
Among these steps, he added, are consideration for developing a regional grant proposal for addressing invasive species as they related to climate resilience and adaptation, coordinating efforts with the Micronesia Challenge to address invasive species concerns in the region's protected areas.
Guam is the concentration of the regional strategy by supporting the island’s enhancement of port inspection processes. “In turn,” Stanford said, “it helps the entire region since Guam serves as the main transportation hub.”
“Specific actions with the coconut rhinoceros beetle, which the council currently supports, include improving sanitation efforts around the Guam ports in order to reduce the potential for this species to enter the transportation network and arrive to other islands, and assisting at-risk jurisdictions with developing/updating emergency response planning for Rhinoceros Beetle incursions,” Stanford said.
In regards to the little fire ant, the council is supporting efforts to control and possibly eradicate it from Yap, where this species was detected last year.
“Invasive species impacts are cross cutting, negatively impacting all sectors. Addressing impacts and risks from invasive species is of the highest priority and is consider a top-level concern along with climate change,” the council said in a press statement. “These and many other invasive species threatening the region or already impacting some islands and threatening others with invasion and establishment.”
The council said managing the risk and impacts of invasive species is a regional and local community effort “that requires everyone to participate by ensuring that they are not accidentally transporting pest organisms and that they rapidly report to local authorities any potential new pests encountered, enabling authorities to engage and remove pests before they become firmly established.”