A new strain of coconut rhinoceros beetle, which was first discovered on Guam in 2007, is causing massive ecological devastation to Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, threatening the Pacific island nations' coconut industry.
The Pacific Community (SPC) estimated that both countries could lose up to NZ$237 million (US$158 million) a year by 2040 as a result of damage to coconut trees alone.
Up to 5,500 trap lures have been distributed to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in a bid to contain the CRB infestation.
SPC said the lures are part of a 50-day effort that has earmarked beetle breedings and potential breeding sites for clean-up as part of efforts to rid the two countries of a new strain of the pest that has been devastating Pacific region's coconut plantations.
SPC is spearheading the eradication effort through the Pacific Awareness and Response to the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (PARC) project, working closely with Vanuatu and Solomon Islands biosecurity teams to contain the CRB infestation, which includes the new CRB Guam (CRB-G) strain.
A new biotype of CRB, Oryctes rhinoceros, was first discovered in Guam in 2007. This biotype is highly invasive with the ability to cause significant damage and to rapidly adapt to its environment.
The new CRB-G strain is resistant to traditional control methods. In 10 years, it has invaded seven Pacific Island countries and states - Guam, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Palau, Hawaii, and most recently, New Caledonia.
For over a century, coconuts have been an integral part of Vanuatu's and Solomon Islands' economies.
“SPC is providing resources to identify CRB larvae,” said Fereti Atumurirava, the Land Resources Division's acting PARC manager.
“It is also helping to recognize and destroy CRB breeding sites, provide traps and lures, and mass-produce the necessary biological control fungus that will help curb the outbreak. Infestations can kill most palms within a year, and given the Beetle’s highly invasive nature, it can cause emergency risks and loss of livelihood in the Pacific region.”
The Pacific Awareness and Response to CRB is a NZD 4 million project funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and implemented by SPC. The four-year project aims to support control efforts of the CRB infestation in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, including the incursion of the new Guam strain.
Biosecurity authorities from the Solomon Islands capital Honiara will carry out plantation sanitation and clean-up operations over the two-months. Palms will be cut down, trunks chopped into smaller sizes, and transported to disposal sites for burning.