October 2005. A photo of a coconut palm from Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia, was sent with a question: has the viroid disease tinangaja been confirmed on that island?
It was pointed out that similar effects can occur from applications of hormone weedkillers, like 2,4-D. One member had seen the effect on coconut palms growing next to sugar cane in Jamaica when “cow-itch” (Mucunia pruriens) had to be controlled before cane cutters would harvest the crop. The palms return to normal (although 2,4-D applied as a trunk injection will kill coconut palms).
SPC Micronesia and agricultural staff conducted a plant virus and virus-like disease survey of Palau and major islands of Federated States of Micronesia in August 2005 and spent 3 days on Kosrae. The question of the possibility of tinangaja being present there, given its proximity to Guam, was considered. It was thought that there is sufficient qualitative data demonstrating area freedom at an acceptable level of confidence. This is outlined below:
Prior to the survey, passive surveillance had been undertaken for many years. There have been no reports of spreading decline problems or aggregated groups of unthrifty or dying palms in any of the islands in FSM. Such reports would undoubtedly follow incursion and establishment of an important intracellular pathogen of palms.
The specific virus / virus-like disease survey of August 2005
Each of the known virus and virus-like diseases of palms has a distinctive set of highly visible symptoms. Throughout the survey of Palau and FSM, palm trees of any type, but especially coconut and betel nut were visually examined for symptoms like those caused by these pathogens.
No such disease symptoms were found at any survey location.
Other points to add:
Routine screening of symptomless palms was not undertaken because this would involve testing in several different laboratories across the world, which would be an extremely costly and time consuming process. Such an undertaking would only be justified if disease presence were suspected from symptoms shown.
- Phytosanitary measures in place to maintain area freedom status
Full quarantine legislation is enforced at all points of entry in FSM. According to the FSM and Palau Plant & Animal Quarantine Regulations (January 2000) palms (plants and plant material) including betel nut are prohibited from importation.
Why go on about this in such detail? Because trading relationships might be in place in this region of the world already or may be planned. Any decisions made with respect to such trade should be based on sound science and following internationally agreed procedures.