Barbados could stand to lose millions of dollars from its plant industries including floriculture, banana and coconut and by extension tourism, if the Red Palm Mite (Raoiella indica) is allowed to gain a strong foothold in the island.
This warning has come from Head of the Entomology Unit, Ian Gibbs, who stressed that the Ministry of Agriculture was making every effort to combat the plant pest, which can cause a drastic decrease in fruit and flower production.
The Red Palm Mite was found recently in parts of St. Michael and Christ Church, along the south coast. Its discovery was as a result of the continuous surveillance the Ministry had been conducting for some two years. The identification was confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture to which digital photos and mite samples were sent.
The Red Palm Mite is usually found on the underside of leaves and often in groups of hundreds that are visible to the naked eye. Feeding mites cause the leaves to turn yellow followed by tissue darkening and death.
??The mite was first reported in the Western Hemisphere in Martinique in 2004 and subsequently, it spread to virtually all the Caribbean islands. Previously, the plant pest was known to reside in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of India, Sri Lanka, Sudan and the Philippines, where it was a pest of the coconut, and Areca and Date Palms. Wind currents and transport of infested plants or leaves are the main modes of spreading the pest.
The adult female mites are red, typically with dark patches on the body, and about 0.32 mm long. Males are smaller than females and triangular in form. The larvae ??are reddish and sluggish. The eggs are red, small, oblong and smooth and are attached underneath the leaf surface by a slender stalk in patches of 100 to 300.
The Red Palm Mite affects a wide variety of palms (Arecaceae) including the coconut which is a major host plant. It also feeds upon decorative plants such as heliconias, ginger lilies, and orchids.
Mr. Gibbs pointed out that scientists in Trinidad estimated that in some cases there were up to 100 million mites per coconut tree in that island, resulting in a decrease in coconut production.
"It is estimated that our coconut industry is worth some 10 million Barbados dollars. Now, the Red Palm Mite can seriously impact this industry and reduce the production of coconuts by up to 80 per cent, as has happened in Trinidad. Could you imagine waking up one morning and finding out that you cannot get any coconuts or water? [If] there is a bunch of coconuts on your tree of about 10, you may only get two or even one," the Entomologist explained.
He added that the plant pest could also have an impact on the aesthetics of the island and indirectly, the tourist industry, since it attacks a variety of palms.
"Palms tend to add to the ambience of the environment. They tend to make our land look very lush, especially for our visitors. If the infestation is high … as has happened in some of the other islands…it will have an adverse effect on the whole environment and people may not want to come to your country if your palms are dying and look sick," the Entomologist maintained.
However, Mr. Gibbs stressed that the Ministry had devised a plan to deal with the Red Palm Mite, which involved the importation of a pesticide. It will be used initially for research, where a sample of trees will be treated.
"We will then initiate a programme of spraying some of the trees to see how effective it [the pesticide] is but tests conducted in Puerto Rico have indicated that when it was compared with a number of other miticides, it was one of the better ones in controlling the Red Palm Mite," he indicated.
According to Mr. Gibbs, if persons suspect that their plants may be infected, they are asked to contact the aforementioned at the Entomology Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Graeme Hall, Christ Church at 434-5103.
?????????????????? He added that persons may also bring a properly contained sample to the Ministry to verify if the plant pest was present on their property. Notwithstanding, Mr. Gibbs urged Barbadians not to move any fresh or suspected samples, since this could lead to further infestation.
"If …we confirm it is the Red Palm Mite, there are a number of stop-gaps that you can put in place…we would recommend one or more of the available, local miticides that you can use in the interim. Also, we would advise you not to move any infested material, like cuttings or old leaves… from your property to another area," he warned.
?????????????????? The Entomologist explained that ideally, infestations should be burned but for persons unable to do so, he has suggested that they place the infected material in a strong, black plastic bag, tie it tightly and "leave it in the sun for a few days."??
He said the heat buildup would eventually kill the pests and then they could be disposed.
Mr. Gibbs stressed that if Barbados was to properly combat this red menace, cooperation from the public was vital and, as such, he urged Barbadians to contact him at the Ministry of Agriculture or Entomologist, Brett Taylor at 310-2821, if there were any queries, or they required any advice in dealing with the pest.
"We need to work together if we are rid the island of this pest. So, I am encouraging Barbadians who suspect their plants may be infected, to contact us at the Ministry so we can take the right course of action. If we fail to do so, the consequences for our coconut and flower industries could be dire," Mr. Gibbs firstname.lastname@example.org