KEEP OUT THE RED PALM MITE: SAYS GIBBS

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Fig 1. Raoiella indica (red palm mite) infestation on Cocos nucifera, Trinidad. (Source Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry website)

As regional agriculture officials continue to grapple with the devastating effect of the red palm mite (Raoiella indica) on their coconut crop, local Entomologist, Ian Gibbs, is again urging Barbadians to be extremely vigilant in keeping the pest from our shores.

“If you are travelling to any of the affected countries, including Dominica, St. Lucia and Trinidad, please do not bring back, or try to smuggle in any kind of palm products, any kind of orchid products, or any of those plant parts, because you could inadvertently bring the red palm mite with you and cause a major headache here in Barbados,” he said.

Dubbing the pest, which is said to be currently wreaking havoc across the Caribbean, a threat to our business as well as horticultural industry, the Entomologist  stressed that it posed a serious threat to palms, bananas, heliconias, orchids and of course, coconuts.

“I know that a lot of us like coconut water, so imagine having to do without coconut water for many years to come,” he warned.

In terms of preventative measures, the Ministry of Agriculture spokesman said plant quarantine officials here were on a heightened alert for the pest, and restrictions were currently in place on all palm products including woven mats, bags and hats coming into the island.

He also indicated that the Ministry had also embarked on an islandwide survey to check on the mite’s presence here.

“We have already initiated a survey starting from Grantley Adams International Airport, working our way south to the Bridgetown Harbour and then moving north to Port St. Charles. So, a good section of the south coast and the west coast have already been surveyed, and we are now beginning to work further inland,” he explained, noting that, so far, it  had not been found.

With regard to control measures, Mr. Gibbs indicated that the pest had a limited number of natural enemies, and, where possible, infected countries should seek to access them and begin biological control programmes.

“The key to any new invasive species coming in is that you have to act on it very quickly. Do not give it a chance to become established – as soon as you find it – you quarantine the area and you begin to treat the area to try to get rid of it,” he stressed.

In terms of its appearance, Mr. Gibbs noted that the mite, as its name implied, was “brilliantly red” in colour, and could easily be seen against most backgrounds. He underlined, however, that it was very small, and therefore one had to look very carefully.

According to scientists, the red palm mite can be distinguished from spider mites by their red colour, flattened bodies and long hairs. All life stages of the pest, including its eggs, are red. The adult female is said to have black patches across its back in some instances.

“If anyone notices those types of mites on coconuts, any kind of palms, bananas, heliconias, gingers, even orchids, please get into contact with us,” Mr. Gibbs appealed.

For additional information on the complete list of affected islands, persons may contact the Ministry of Agriculture’s Entomology section at 434-5103/5104/5106 or at the hotline 437-3978.

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