Mealybug a hearty pest

The Pink Hibiscus Mealybug continues to threaten Grand Cayman’s flora and the public is being asked to continue its efforts to stop the pest.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Leader of Government Business and Agriculture minister Kurt Tibbetts warned that while the Pink Hibiscus Mealybug eradication program is now well under way, the threat to Grand Cayman’s plants, trees and crops remains severe.

Mr. Tibbets asked the public to continue to remain vigilant and report all suspected cases to the PHM hotline at 1-800-534-BUGS (2847).

There have been over 100 reports of the mealybug since the hotline was opened, and Mr. Tibbetts thanked the public for their assistance. The PHM is by far the most destructive of all mealybugs, and any suspected case should be reported immediately.

Because of the staff reallocations and biosecurity considerations, the Department of Agriculture has temporarily suspended its nursery operations and its special events plant decoration services, although it is still filling seedling orders.

Workers are conducting ongoing surveys within a one mile radius of the original site.

A second site has also been confirmed in West Bay and the situation is being addressed agressively.

The Department of Agriculture plans on using ladybird beetles and parasitic wasps. The first ladybug release was conducted Wednesday.

The first set of parasitic wasps, which Government officials assure only prey on the PHM, will be arriving in the second week of July. They will be escorted by a specialist from the Florida Department of Agriculture who will train Cayman DoA staff in their use.

Since the Florida DoA started using the wasps, it has been importing 10,000 a week. The success of the program has prompted the agency to offer to divert half of its supply to the Cayman Islands for the next six months.

Mr. Tibbetts warned that under no circumstances should people attempt to use pesticides on the bugs, as they are highly resistant to them and exposure will only increase their tolerance.

‘Overusing pesticides is not only extremely harmful to the surrounding soil, plants and living creatures, it is also unnecessary as they are not an effective weapon against this pest,’ said Mr. Tibbetts.

Another compelling reason not to use pesticides is that while they are ineffective against the PHM, they will harm the natural predators being used in the eradication program.

Mr. Tibbetts reiterated the important role that landscape companies play in controlling the pest.

Simple ways to support eradication efforts include:

• disinfecting all tools and implements in between jobs, using materials supplied by the Department of Agriculture, and

• transporting all cuttings in enclosed, covered vehicles and taking them to designated areas of the George Town landfill.

The Government anticipates that regulations will be introduced within the next week to limit the movement and introduction of plant materials both on-Island and off-Island.

While movement of plant materials from Grand Cayman to the sister Islands has been halted, imports from the Sister Islands are still open as the pest has not been detected there.

‘It is certainly not our intention to scare anyone, but we have to strike a balance to make people understand how serious this problem is,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

‘We need to think of our country’s economic well-being. The pest affects us all. Our tourism industry depends on an attractive clean look to enhance the tourism product.

‘The pest also poses a threat to our farming community, and those of us who spend hours creating beautiful gardens will be affected by dead, withered plants. Let’s continue to work together to stop the PHM.’