Logging companies are often pegged as the carrier of invasive pests such as the giant African snail and the coconut rhinoceros beetle, but according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, that is not typically the case.
Francis Tsatsia, director of the ministry’s quarantine division, said Solomon Islands has measures in place to prevent the introduction of pests through foreign equipment brought into the country.
“In our law, it’s a requirement that every machine that comes in has to be clean, and a certificate is issued that the machine is clean,” he said. “Cleaning can mean that they use steam, and they must dismantle all the moving parts and then clean them.”
Equipment that is dirty with soil attached could carry pests.
“A machine is always a risk, but if it’s properly cleaned and inspected, then it should not be a problem,” Mr Tsatsia said.
Most machines spend about three to four weeks on vessels at sea before they reach the country, and the exposure to saltwater can also help kill any attached pests.
However, shipping routes take vessels through Asian countries and various islands, often close to shore. That gives pests a chance to get on board. It is suspected that most pests introduced into Solomon Islands came through this path, Mr Tsatsia said.
Regardless of how the giant African snail and the coconut rhinoceros beetle crossed the border into Solomon Islands, reports of destruction they caused are coming in from provinces across the country.
And Mr Tsatsia said it is becoming more challenging to contain the pests.
Biosecurity teams from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock have been sent to several islands to verify the presence of the coconut rhinoceros beetle and apply containment measures.
And New Zealand has committed to supporting Solomon Islands in the fight against the beetle through two new projects.
Bob Macfarlane, coordinator of a coconut rhinoceros beetle response team, said one project will work closely with specialists from the biosecurity and research divisions of the agriculture ministry and the other will collaborate with staff from Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Limited.
“The first thing they will do is try to find the origin of the beetle that is in the country,” he said. “After they do that, they will go there to find out what type of disease will kill it, and they will bring that disease here, replicate it, and introduce it to our beetle.”
The scientists will look for diseases that will affect the beetle similar to the viral and fungal diseases that helped combat related beetles elsewhere in the South Pacific.
Mr Macfarlane said work on the projects will begin immediately, and all participating organisations will meet at the end of January in Honiara.
By Charlie Salini and Fred Osifelo