Visitors flock to the Hawaiian Islands for sun-soaked holidays filled with silky beaches, turquoise water, lush green hillsides — and naked palm trees missing their leafy crowns?
That possibility has state officials worried because Hawaii’s iconic swaying palm trees are under attack. Their nemesis is the latest in a long line of invasive species to arrive here: the coconut rhinoceros beetle.
Much as the Asian long-horned beetle attacked maple and elm trees on the East Coast, the coconut rhinoceros beetle could devastate Hawaii’s palm trees and move on to bananas, papayas, sugar cane and other crops afterward. Adult beetles burrow into the crowns of palm trees to feed on their sap, damaging developing leaves and eventually killing the trees.
At this point, eradication is still possible. It’s going to take a long time, but it’s still possible.- Rob Curtiss, incident commander for Hawaii’s coconut rhinoceros beetle eradication program
Concerns that the thumb-sized pest, named for its curved horn, could hitch a ride to California or Florida and attack thriving palm oil and date industries there have prompted federal and state officials to declare the beetle’s discovery in Honolulu a pest emergency.
One year into the fight — Dec. 23, 2014, was the anniversary of the beetle’s discovery on coconut palms at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam — state officials are cautiously optimistic.
“At this point, eradication is still possible. It’s going to take a long time, but it’s still possible,”
WAILUKU >> Coffee growers on Maui are bracing for a destructive beetle to eventually make its way to the island.
The coffee berry borer has been wreaking havoc on the Big Island for years. The pest made its way to Oahu in December.
“I’ve been a farmer forever, and I know the reality of these kinds of things, so I expect that at some point it will show up here,” said MauiGrown Coffee President Kimo Falconer. “But we’re ready.”
Preventative measures include some farmers restricting access to their orchards, the Maui News reported Tuesday.
“We’ve had to put signs up trying to reduce the amount of people walking through our fields, but really they can just walk right up there, and maybe they were in Kona yesterday doing a farm tour, and there’s dirt on their shoes,” Falconer said.
Falconer said his farm checks traps regularly and has trimmed back trees that are close to roads.
Some farms that used to offer educational tours no longer do so, said Sydney Smith, president of the Maui Coffee Association and owner of Maliko Estate Coffee. “The beetle is so tiny it gets spread by people coming from the Big Island from dirt on their shoes or their clothes,” Smith said.
The tiny beetle bores into the coffee cherry, and its larvae feed on the coffee bean, reducing its yield and quality. Farmers may not discover them until after harvest.
It’s unknown how the beetle, native to Central Africa, arrived in Hawaii.
“We’re the last coffee growing region on Earth to finally get it,” Falconer said.
The state Department of Agriculture issued a quarantine order that requires a permit to transport unroasted coffee beans, coffee plants and plant parts, used coffee bags and coffee harvesting equipment from Hawaii Island to other islands that are not infested with the coffee berry borer.
The coffee berry borer can cause yield losses of 30 to 35 percent with 100 percent of berries infested at harvest time, according to the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
A researcher is studying the effectiveness of the fungus spray used on the Big Island and is looking at how it affects coffee berry borer distribution across farms, said Mark Wright, plant and environmental chairman of the college.
Kauai has also managed to avoid the beetle, so far. Kauai Agricultural Research Center Entomologist Russell Messing has been teaching farmers how to take samples and test for the beetle using a procedure and sampling kit that he developed.