Ohia lehua trees in Hawaii are being killed by fungus, endangering native birds, the fresh water supply but also some cultural traditions such as hula.
Residents of the Big Island are calling the disease the ‘rapid ohia death’ and more reports show that it has already affected millions of ohia lehua trees. If last year experts were saying that 50 percent of the ohia trees have been affected in a forest area of over 6,000 acres, now they think that the impact has reached almost all the trees.
However, the fungus has been only recently identified and the forest health coordinator at the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources, Robert Hauff, says that during the next month aerial surveys will be carried in order to find out the exact area affected by the fungus.
At least one global expert will visit the Hawaii during next year to share his knowledge in similar diseases and to coordinate efforts with local authorities in an attempt to control the outbreak.
Hauff has held a recent news conference in Honolulu when he told the reporters that the fungus has to be stopped as soon as possible before spreading across the state and decimate the entire ohia forest of Hawaii.
Ohia Lehua is a flowering evergreen tree from the family of myrtle. Ohia trees are vital from some of the state’s native birds, of which many are endangered species that feed from the nectar of the flowers produced by the trees. These trees are one important part of Hawaiian ecosystem as many other native plants grow at their shadow in ohia forests.
Another important role played by the ohia trees is ensuring the water supply of the islands as they soak a huge amount of water which is then replenishing the watershed.
In response of the outbreak the state’s Department of Agriculture has issued a series of rules aiming to stop the fungus from spreading. In consequence, people are not allowed to move flowers, wood or any other parts of the trees from an island.
More than that, the department is now working on recommendations for people to disinfect their clothes, shoes and their tools when coming in contact to an ohia tree. This would be extremely useful especially for lumberjacks and other forest workers who might help spread the fungus from sick trees to healthy ones.
Image source: wikipedia