Coconut rhino beetle widespread on Bellona thanks to MAL and covid-19


Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) is widespread on Bellona Island, ironically, thanks in part to the Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock (MAL) and covid-19.

The ministry is seemingly trying to make up for this inadvertent failure.

MAL Biosecurity director Mr Francis Tsatsia told Island Sun on Thursday last week the ministry plans to send personnel to the beetle-covered island to assess the situation. But, this is yet to take place.

Late last year, a team from MAL travelled to Bellona to quell the beetle’s spread.

By then, it was nearing the centre of the island, having started spreading from the east where first sightings were reported in 2019.

The MAL team instructed locals to heap sawed coconut trunks together to form what they called a ‘trap’ for the beetle. The idea behind this was the traps offered a nesting ground for the beetle, and two or three months later the MAL team would return to burn these traps, killing the larvae and eggs.

The MAL team reportedly told locals on Bellona that this exercise, once repeated could end the beetle’s presence on the island.

They left Bellona, promising to return in July this year to burn the traps.

However, this plan was reportedly abandoned following covid-19 community transmission in Honiara (announced on January 19, 2022) and ensuing restrictions and funding problems.

Hence, the beetle traps, which lined Bellona’s road from east to west, became a breeding sanctuary for the beetle. By September this year, beetle sightings had come from all corners of the island.

Speaking to Island Sun during the paper’s visit to Bellona in late September this year, school teacher Mr McQueen Tekatoha said MAL had failed Bellona, and blamed the ministry for the beetle now covering the island.

“The beetle after its first sighting in 2019 had spread relatively slowly. But, after the failed MAL-led attempt to cull the pest with the traps, the beetle has now completely covered Bellona.

“Bellona has been facing a food security crisis, and the coconut rhinoceros beetle’s spread is exacerbating the problem.

“Since January, we have not heard anything from MAL regarding any plan to try and reverse this wild spread of coconut rhinoceros beetle which they have caused.”

Another school teacher on Bellona, Mr David Taetonu, called on the government through MAL to consider helping Bellona with its CRB crisis.

“Since MAL had unintentionally enabled the wild spread of the beetle on Bellona, government should at least have the decency to try and come up with something to help fight the beetle’s spread and tackle its population here.”

MAL Biosecurity Director Tsatsia admitted to Island Sun in last week’s interview that it was beyond their control due to the covid-19 outbreak and lack of funds thereafter.

“That work they should have already been done but unfortunately what has happened in terms of the covid-19 it is beyond the ministry’s control.

“Because after they cut the coconut trunks, they should burn it. Because when it stays that way, it becomes a breeding site.

“Funding has been a problem that continued to delay the work that should have been done earlier.”

Rennell and Bellona islands are home to the tall species of coconut which bears huge fruits, and MAL is aware of the danger CRB poses there.

“The Rennell Tall species or big fruit as it is known widely is a unique species that is only found in Renbel province. That is important to complete the work to protect the species or variety of coconut,” Tstatsia told Island Sun.

 “It is critical the we complete the work the sooner the better. To reduce the population of the Rhinoceros Beetle and protect the Rennell Tall species.”

Director Tsatsia reassured the concerned people of Bellona that MAL is onto this problem.

“An officer from the Agriculture Extension will be travelling to Bellona to try and complete the work.

“All the arrangements have already been made. He should leave Honiara for Bellona today [Thursday, Dec 1] and will stay there for two weeks and come back to update us on what should be done next.

“The key focus of his task is to complete the work. When he arrives there, he should hire some casual workers in the community and hire chainsaws to assist him do the work there.”

However, since this interview, MAL has not sent an officer to Bellona.

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