Tuesday, 11 September 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St. John's - The Antigua Hotels and Tourist Association (AHTA) and the Plant Protection Unit are due to meet tomorrow to devise a strategy to deal with Lethal Yellowing disease which is attacking palm trees across the country and threatening the tourism sector.
The disease has been found on the compound of the St James’s Club, Curtain Bluff and other properties, AHTA General Manager Neil Forrester has said.
Sandals has reportedly had to cut down nearly 100 palm trees.
"We have to look at the problem holistically because if a workable solution is not found, Antigua could lose 80 per cent of the palm trees in months," Forrester warned.
"Go around McKinnons and the north of the island and you see how many affected trees."
He said the Plant Protection Unit has been working in isolation while attempts by hoteliers to control the disease have been met with bureaucratic red tape from government departments such as the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board.
At issue is hoteliers’ interest in using an antibiotic treatment called Oxytetracycline Hydrochloride (OTC), which, once injected every four months "stalls" the virus. The disease has no known cure.
"There has been concerns expressed by the different boards that OTC could get into the coconut water and people could drink it," Forrester explained.
"But OTC is extensively used in the United States, in honey production, and chicken farming..."
Chairman of the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board Dr. Malvern Spencer could not be reached for comment.
The use of OTC would be costly to hotels. For example, one of the top properties in the south of the country would have to spend in the region of $450,000 annually to keep its 6,000 palm trees alive.
Forrester acknowledged though that there is the question of how long such a programme can be sustained.
The AHTA general manager said he is looking forward to the Wednesday meeting with head of the Plant Protection Unit Dr Janil Gore-Francis.
"We are willing to come together to see what resources we need to save the island. This could be an island disaster because it could affect the tourism industry. It's a serious issue, one that we consider of national importance and will have national consequences if we don't treat it," he said.
When questioned on the matter, Dr Gore-Francis said it is important that an agreement be reached on the way forward.
"We have a plan," she assured, "We’re just trying to implement and streamline things. What we’re asking is that people call us if they suspect their plants have it."
She said the plan is to replenish the stock of palm trees once the infected ones have been cut down and removed.
Lethal Yellowing leads to the premature dropping of most or all coconuts, the blackening of new flower stalks and the yellowing and subsequent browning and shedding of the boughs of the plant.
Infected trees usually die within three to six months after the first symptoms appear.
In the region, the disease has been found in neighbouring Nevis, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Belize.
Authorities on Nevis have said that it has killed thousands of coconut palms since its discovery there in 2006. They have imported more resistant varieties from Dominica.
In Jamaica where it was first found in 1884, the disease remains a threat to the country's EC $30.4 billion coconut industry.
Farmers have been encouraged to immediately remove infected trees and replace them with healthy ones.
A plant variety that is resistant to the disease has been developed and was being made available to farmers on a limited basis, according to information released in March by Jamaica's Ministry of Agriculture and the Coconut Industry Board.