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Vanuatu declares state of emergency over coconut beetle

By
Elizabeth Shim
The island of Vanuatu has declared a state of emergency as it seeks to eradicate a pest affecting coconut plantations. File Photo by Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE
The island of Vanuatu has declared a state of emergency as it seeks to eradicate a pest affecting coconut plantations. File Photo by Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE

July 24 (UPI) -- The island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific has declared a state of emergency as beetles threaten to destroy the coconut industry.

The coconut rhinoceros beetle first appeared in May and could potentially destroy coconut oil plantations in the country, Australia's ABC News reported Wednesday.

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Tens of thousands of people in Vanuatu rely on coconut oil production in order to make a living. Copra, or dried coconut flesh, is one of Vanuatu's biggest exports, according to the report.

"We're getting more grubs collected, we're getting more breeding sites destroyed, we're getting more numbers of adult beetles," said Leisongi Bulesulu, a plant health officer from Vanuatu's department of biosecurity.

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The department is cultivating a fungus that could be planted at sites to kill the pest.

"The fungus is going to infect the beetle, the gut, and that it is how it is going to kill the beetle," Bulesulu said.

In 2015, the coconut rhinoceros beetle, originating from Asia, decimated coconut and oil palm plantation in the Solomon Islands.

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"If it spreads to the north and center of Vanuatu where the main producing areas for copra are, that means it's going to be really destructive for our coconuts," said Dyson Wilson, general manager of Vanuatu Copra and Cocoa Exports.

Vanuatu is situated in the South Pacific, where rising water temperatures are adding to food security issues, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Climate change has also led to extreme weather. Cyclone Winston destroyed parts of Fiji in 2016, and hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones are expected to become stronger with rising temperatures.

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