The head of Cayman’s Mosquito Control and Research Unit, one of the driving forces behind the use of genetically modified mosquitoes on the island, is leaving the role.
Bill Petrie confirmed Thursday he has taken up a new role as head of mosquito control in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
He said his departure is unlikely to affect the pioneering, and at times controversial project taking place in Cayman, to fight insect-borne diseases such as Zika and dengue fever with genetically modified mosquitoes.
An islandwide rollout of the GM mosquito project is scheduled to begin in February, following a successful test deployment in West Bay.
Mr. Petrie, in his new role, will be in charge of scaling up mosquito-fighting efforts in Miami-Dade County, which suffered a significant outbreak of the Zika virus last year.
The county is tripling the size of its mosquito control division in response to the health scare and hired Mr. Petrie to head up operations. He said officials in Miami are aware of the success the Cayman Islands has had in controlling mosquito-borne diseases.
He said the Zika outbreak put new attention internationally on the value of fighting mosquitoes for public health reasons, and officials were looking to the Cayman Islands, which has been targeting mosquitoes for decades, for solutions.
“Whereas, for us in Cayman, it used to be more about economic control, now it is much more about disease control,” Mr. Petrie said. “It has become a much bigger aspect here in Cayman, throughout the region and also in the U.S.”
Mr. Petrie said he would not immediately seek to use GM mosquitoes in Miami-Dade.
“They are interested in discussing it. It’s a bit more complex in the U.S. with the regulatory procedure. They are about to embark on a trial in the Florida Keys and I imagine Miami-Dade will want to look at that first before embarking on it.
“They are rebuilding their mosquito division, and it is probably a bit early to say which operational techniques will be used.”
Mr. Petrie worked at MRCU for more than 30 years. He joined the facility in 1984 as a research assistant after graduating in biology and zoology from the University of Dundee, Scotland. He was awarded a doctorate by the university in 1996 for his research into the reproductive biology of the Cayman Islands’ swamp mosquito.
He said leaving the island would be a “bittersweet” moment.
“It will be sad to leave the Cayman Islands and the MRCU. I have been there a long time and they are a great bunch of people to work with. It has been a privilege to work in Cayman, but I am also looking forward to a new challenge and opportunity.”
Deputy Chief Officer of the Ministry of Health, Environment, Culture and Housing Nancy Barnard will be acting director of MRCU until Mr. Petrie’s successor is appointed.
Oxitec project manager Renaud Lacroix will continue to run the GM mosquito program.