• April 8, 2017
Look out for yellow powdery eruptions on leaves. Photo: Supplied / M Daughtrey, Cornell University
The Ministry of Primary Industries has issued a call to arms after a fungal plant disease which could affect New Zealand native plants and our honey industry was found on Raoul Island.
The disease, myrtle rust, can be identified by bright yellow powdery eruptions on leaves and attacks various species of plant such as pōhutukawa, kānuka, mānuka and non-natives like the feijoa plant.
Amid fears the disease could spread to these shores, MPI is working with DOC and the New Zealand Defence Force to survey Raoul for it.
David Yard, MPI incident controller, said several DOC workers were going over the island, so a joint plan could be made.
“They’ve been briefed on how to minimise the risk of spreading it…because obviously the risk is if you work through an affected area, you might actually spread the disease,” Mr Yard said.
Raoul Island is 1100km away from the nearest part of the New Zealand mainland. The island is also very rocky and mountainous, making work difficult.
“We’ve been working with the Defence Force should we need to get materials, equipment and people onto the island to support DOC efforts,” Mr Yard said.
The disease can travel long distances by wind and can also be transported by insects, rain splashes and contaminated clothing.
The Wellington-based Science Media Centre quoted Dr David Teulon, director of Better Border Biosecurity, who said myrtle rust had been spreading rapidly around the world in recent years.
“If it reached mainland New Zealand, it could have a serious impact on a number of our taonga Māori plant species, such as pōhutukawa and rātā, with severe infections causing plants to die,” Dr Teulon said.
“Plants that are also important to our honey industry, such as mānuka and kānuka, could also be affected, which could severely impact on New Zealand’s annual $300 million of honey exports.”