Hawaii is no stranger to the threat of invasive species. Over the last several hundred years, Hawaii’s biodiversity has become threatened by the arrival of untold numbers of invasive species. These animals, insects and parasites threaten to drive out native ecology, and can also be costly to local industry.
“Invasive species can destroy a lot of trees in rapid fashion,” says Donald S. Saunders Jr., President of Saunders Landscape Supply. “Not only do these trees provide shade, but they also produce the oxygen we breathe.”
Hawaii has taken intensive steps to quell the arrival of these invaders, but some still manage to slip through the cracks. The coconut rhinoceros beetle is one of those.
Palm trees are one of Hawaii’s most iconic plants. When people think about lounging on a Hawaiian beach, they think palm trees. The coconut rhinoceros beetle, native to Asia, could have a devastating effect on the state’s economy if it is allowed to thrive — the insect is utterly destructive to the trees it managed to infect, killing them as it bores holes through the fronds.
“(This could have) large-scale landscape-changing effects on the state,” warned Rob Curtiss, The Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s pest control branch manager, in an interview with local station KHON2. “It affects palm trees. Picture Waikiki with half the trees that are there now.”
First spotted at the Join Base Pearl-Harbor Hickham in Dec. 2013, the beetle has since been found in Campbell Industrial Park, located three miles away. The second location may indicate that the beetle is already more widespread in the local region than previously thought.
Mulch, though useful for cutting down on weeds and preserving moisture near soil, is often a breeding ground for invasive species, and the beetles have been making mounds of mulch located at Pearl Harbor their home. To try and eliminate the beetle’s spread, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture plans to burn and destroy the mulch.
“Every mulch pile we can identify, every infested tree that we can identify, we’re going to destroy,” said Curtiss. Though there are several ways the group could get rid of the mulch piles, Curtiss indicated that incineration is typically the most effective method. “The incineration is a much faster way and there’s no way for the incinerated areas of becoming re-infested because they are gone,” explained Curtiss.
While there is no promise that this will eliminate the coconut rhinoceros beetle completely, Curtiss hopes that eliminating an easy breeding ground will help lead to eradication. In addition to mulch burning, crews have already removed 150 coconut trees in an effort to find both the beetle and its larvae. Officials discovered about 30 beetles and larvae altogether. Starting in August, they also began removing fronds from trees and checking for live insects.
“When properly applied, the success rate for chemicals and other invasive species deterrents can be very high and is crucial for helping the environment while eliminating an invasive species,” said Saunders.