Topics: Environment, Politics

Thousands of East Coast ramarama infected by myrtle rust

By Talisa Kupenga

It's been a month since myrtle rust was discovered on the East Cape and Department of Conservation ranger Graeme Atkins says the disease is spreading.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has identified myrtle rust as among the top three biosecurity threats to New Zealand, which could impact commercial opportunities on the East Coast.

DoC ranger Graeme Atkins says, "It's moving pretty rapidly and plants that we found a month ago that were just marginally covered with the rust are just smothered".

Myrtle rust is an airborne fungal disease that affects plants in the myrtle family, including pohutukawa, rata, ramarama and mānuka. 

So far the disease has been detected in more than 500 places across the country.

Atkins says, "We've seen thousands of ramarama that have been infected with myrtle rust, thousands".

Regional Economic Development Minister  Shane Jones says, "Mānuka is one of the species that can be affected, we do need to be diligent because right now there is no known cure".

Mānuka honey is a key industry on the East Coast. 

Jones says so far there has been no indication that the high value mānuka species have been affected in the region, and he's forging ahead to plant mānuka as part of his One Billion Trees programme.

"Mānuka is a very valuable resource in that region but what I would suggest to locals is to not discount the value of Rewarewa and Kamahi varieties," says Jones.

The Gisborne District falls in to the high-risk category with high numbers of myrtle species and a hot and humid climate.  Assessment of the region is ongoing.

MPI advises anyone who suspects they have found myrtle rust not to touch it.  Take a photo of the whole plant, a close-up of the infected leaf and a close-up photo of spores on the infected leaf.

Then call MPI's exotic pest and disease hotline on 0800 809 966, or contact the Department of Conservation on 0800 362 468.