Travelers attending the Merrie Monarch Festival later this week are being reminded by the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture about quarantine restrictions on the transport of ohia from Hawai`i Island due to a serious plant disease called rapid ohia death, also known as ROD, which is devastating the native forests on that island.
The quarantine restricts the movement of ohia plants and plant parts, including flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, twigs, cuttings, untreated wood, logs, mulch greenwaste and frass (sawdust from boring insects) and any soil from Hawai`i Island. Transport of such items is only allowed with a permit issued by the HDOA.
“We ask that everyone be mindful of the quarantine restrictions,” said Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawai`i Board of Agriculture. “So far, we have been able to prevent the spread of the disease to other islands and continued vigilance is essential.”
HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch will be sending crews of inspectors from across the state to airports in both Hilo and Kona to boost inspection capacity near the end of the Merrie Monarch Festival, which runs from April 1st to the 7th. From April 6th to the 9th, special inspection stations will be set up at the airports where passengers may turn in any ohia material before boarding flights. Plant Quarantine offices in Kona and Hilo will also be accepting ohia material for proper disposal.
The Hawai`i Board of Agriculture issued the emergency quarantine in August 2015 to stop the spread of the plant fungus from Hawai`i Island to other islands. Any person who violates the quarantine rule may be charged with a misdemeanor and fined not less than $100 with a maximum fine of $10,000. For a second offense committed within five years of a prior conviction under this rule, the person or organization shall be fined not less than $500 and not more than $25,000.
The Merrie Monarch Festival draws dozens of hula halau and hundreds of spectators to Hawaii Island. It is important to note that the very act of harvesting ohia may spread the disease as spores may be carried in soil and by harvesting tools, vehicles, shoes and clothing to uninfected areas.
Multi-agency ROD working groups have been meeting with Native Hawaiian groups, the Merrie Monarch organization and other community groups to provide advice and guidance on the handling of ohia material.
ROD was first noticed in 2010 in Puna. In 2014, the fungus was initially identified as Ceratocystis fimbriata by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Daniel K. Inouye Agricultural Research Service. Recent research has reclassified Ceratocystis fimbriata into two distinct species that are new to science, Ceratocystis lukuohia and Ceratocystis huliohia.
In 2014, it was estimated that the disease covered approximately 6,000 acres from Kalapana to Hilo and exhibited tree mortality rates of more than 50 percent. Currently, it is estimated to infect about 135,000 acres around Hawaii Island. So far, the disease has not been found on other islands. It is not known how the disease entered the state or where it came from.
Travelers seeking more inspection information may contact HDOA’s Plant Quarantine offices in Hilo (808) 974-4141 or Kona (808) 326-1077.
More information can be found here.
DLNR file photo.