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Rapid ohia death spreads to every district on Big Island

  • COURTESY UH COLLEGE OF TROPICAL AGRICULTURE AND HUMAN RESOURCES

    Symptoms of Ceratocystis, the more harmful of two newly identified fungal species that cause rapid ohia death, include rapid browning of tree crowns.

Rapid ohia death has been detected in North Kohala, the Big Island Invasive Species Committee has said. The discovery means the disease has spread to every district on Hawaii island, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

“The disease now exists from north to south to east and west across the island,” said J.B. Friday, extension forester with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “There are still a lot of forests not infected. This is only one detection in all of Kohala. But there’s no district on the island we now don’t have positive (detection).”

Trees with the disease were found Sept. 15 on a private ranch. Researchers collected 10 samples at the site, eight of which tested positive for Ceratocystis, the more harmful of two newly identified fungal species that cause the disease in ohia.

Experts aren’t yet sure how the fungus arrived to the island’s northernmost district. Crews are sampling more trees in the infected area during the coming weeks to better assess its cause and how much it has spread.

Committee spokeswoman Franny Brewer said researchers hope to seek funding from the 2018 Legislature to further study the disease.

“It’s really difficult to try and get a grip on a brand new disease,” Brewer said. “We’re starting from scratch.”

Friday called the latest discovery in Kohala “discouraging” but said “no one is throwing in the towel.”

“We’re going full bore to get it contained,” he said. “We think the disease will be a manageable disease in many areas. There are clearly some areas where it’s just taken off, but in other areas we don’t think it will be so bad.”

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