8 Jul 2013

Cooks Islands emergency response to fruit fly a success

5:54 pm on 8 July 2013

An aggressive emergency response to the discovery of Oriental fruit fly in the Cook Islands has so far proven effective.

The fruit flies were first discovered in May, and intensive trapping was set up every 500 metres around Rarotonga's main and back roads, and further inland.

An entomologist with the Cook Islands Ministry of Agriculture Dr Maja Poeschko told Leilani Momoisea that the number of fruit flies appearing in traps dropped rapidly from about 50 in each trap, to just 1-to-3 flies.

MAJA POESCHKO: We have a public awareness going, for everybody to help the public to collect fallen and unwanted fruits to either feed to the pigs or bury or dispose of in another way, because they might harbour eggs and immature stages of the fruit fly.

LEILANI MOMOISEA: And what kind of damage has this done to the agriculture sector in the Cook Islands?

MP: We do have a lot of small part-time growers on the islands, which really rely on the little income from their little registered gardens. And the Oriental fruit fly is known to attack up to 95 percent of fruits in the field. So if you are a tomato grower and 95 percent of your fruits are affected, that is quite a big impact.

LM: Is there still fruit that you know is not affected?

MP: Yes, there are a few vendors on the market. Since the population of the fruit fly is very, very low, there are still fruits available to be sold on the market. But we do have restrictions. People are not allowed to export any fruit or take any fruit to other islands within the Cook Islands.

LM: And how long do you think the traps and that sort of thing are going to be out?

MP: We will check the traps at least for a couple of months further on after we haven't found any flies in it. There was an eradication programme in Tahiti. From memory, they stopped after three months - they hadn't found any flies in the traps and stopped - and the flies reoccurred after a short time. So lesson learned from that. We will go at least half a year, maybe even a year on from the time we haven't found any flies. The three major things is attracting the females with a protein bait and killing them, attracting the males with a pheromone and also killing them, and the fruit collection sanitation. These are the three major things in a fruit fly eradication programme.