Fungus disease has potential to devastate industry

By Dean Nathan

It's a fungal disease with the potential to devastate native flora and the manuka honey and fruit industry.  That's the essence of a major biosecurity defensive taking place in Northland to eradicate the disease "myrtle rust" first seen last week at a Kerikeri nursery.

Mark Bateman of the Ministry of Primary Industries gave Māori Television an update on day 3 of the eradication of a fungus with spores that can become airborne and be spread by the wind.

"We've isolated that we've provided a full survey of that particular site and we've treated it at the location.  We've now got a number of them going around the area from that point searching out to a 500 metre radius to see if there are any other affected plants in the area."

MPI has a team of over 120 people on the ground in Kerikeri working with the public and local iwi.

Ian Mitchell says, "We're asking everyone to check the coastal pohutukawa in your districts for any sign of the yellow spore.  The challenge is enormous because this fungus can kill manuka and red manuka, pohutukawa, ramarama white maire and black maire."

The result of the 5 day eradication effort in Kerikeri will be available this week and are expected to give some indication as to whether the fungus has spread to a wider area.  MPI are urging the public to be vigilant against Myrtle Rust. 

Mitchell says, "Part of my job is communications with the peoples of Ngāpuhi and of utmost importance right now is that we check the trees on our coastline for this fungus."

Mark Bateman says, "If it spreads it could end up anywhere in the vicinity and once it lands then we'll be moving into containment instead of eradication.  Naturally we want to stop it as soon and as swiftly as we can before it gets to that stage if at all possible."

The public are being advised that if you see this fungus don't touch it but take a photo and report it.