Preventing fire ant spread

The Vanuatu Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation has called for a tightening up of the transfer of organic matter across the country to curb the spread of infectious species.

The department’s Biosafety and Invasive Species Officer, Mimosa Bethel, says tightening up on the quarantining of organic material prior to it being moved across Vanuatu, helps stop the spread of destructive pests.

Ms Bethel says when travelling to other islands and carrying organic materials such as plants and seeds, people need to isolate the plant material for some days and must check it for pests before they carry it to other regions or islands.

She says the invasive fire ant species which causes painful stings and can disrupt agricultural industries, is just one example of the environmentally damaging pests that are being spread across islands in Vanuatu.

She says the fire ant which is in Torba, Sanma and Shefa provinces has also spread to the islands of Malekula and Ambae.

The department believes, the fire ant was spread to Malekula via a sucker of a banana tree being taken to the islands by an old man from Banks Islands in Torba Province. The man was attending a wedding ceremony.

Ms Bethel says the man appears not to have quarantined the banana sucker before travelling from Banks to Malekula with it. She says the accidental spread of the ant to Malekula took place in 2015 when the department was not as aware of the fire ant threat.

Ms Bethel says in Malekula, the department did a survey on a two to four hectare site around where the ant was first spotted and applied eradication treatment.

She says the environment department will return before the end of 2020 to carry out a second treatment and will also carry out its first eradication treatment of fire ants in Ambae.

Ms Bethel says because of the department’s quick response to the first outbreak of fire ants in Malekula, the spread of the ants there has declined.

She says the upcoming second eradication treatment on Malekula is also critical.

In another development this week, Vanuatu’s Department of Biosecurity ordered controls on shipping vessels departing Port Vila, as part of its effort to control the spread of the coconut rhinoceros beetle from Efate to other islands.

The beetle has the potential to devastate Vanuatu’s coconut industry.

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