Wake up San Pedro!

Example of seven infected or dead trees. These are part of a Lethal Yellow Focus (center) of approximately 50 trees located 2 miles north of town
A few months ago a very informative article was published in the San Pedro Sun on the subject of the Lethal Yellowing palm disease. It was authored by one of the leading experts on this disease, Dr Roger Ashburner. He stated that Lethal Yellowing has been positively identified on Ambergris Caye and that we can expect to witness total devastation of our Belizean Tall coconut trees within 3 years if no control measures are taken. He was speaking from experience not conjecture.

Please think about the effects that a denuded island will have on our lives: The tourism business will suffer as we will no longer offer the symbol of the Caribbean - the beach with coconut trees.

Our real estate will devalue.

Beach erosion will escalate as there will no longer be the 50,000+ massive root systems to help hold our sand in one place.

The average midday temperatures will rise considerably due to excessive radiation from the now unshaded ground.

And we will talk about how good rice and beans used to taste when it was made with coconut milk.

Dr Ashburner made his recommendations on what to do about it and even provided phone numbers for the National Plant Protection Service at Central Farm. Their phone should have been ringing off the hook but it never did. Or maybe very few people happened to read that particular issue of the San Pedro Sun.

Lethal Yellowing is not a newcomer to the tropics. It has been around for many years and incalculable dollars have been lost due to the destruction it has left in its wake. It affects both tall varieties of Coconut palms found in Belize which are the Belizean Tall and the Panama Tall. The majority of our trees on the Cayes are of the Belizean Tall variety. Only until the mid 1970's was the University of Florida able to come up with a preventative treatment - not a cure - and also help the Jamaican Coconut Board develop a resistant hybrid strain for a long term solution. Unfortunately in many countries the solution came too late. And recently in some countries the residents were too apathetic to do anything about it.

Lethal yellowing is sort of like AIDS - it is incurable and a tree can be infected with a microscopic organism for up to a year and not show any ill effects and then all of a sudden it will display the symptoms of Lethal Yellowing and slowly die within 6 months. The disease is transmitted by a tiny sap sucking fly that can be transported to new areas by wind or by a blade of grass stuck in the hem of a workers pants. There have been no successful means found to control the "vector" which is the fly.

Over half of the Belizean Tall coconut palms on the mainland have already either died or are dying. On Ambergris Caye the disease has just started and there is still time to prevent a disaster. Due to budgetary constraints neither the Central Government or the Town Board is going to fund you on this one. It is up to all private property owners to educate themselves, prevent the deaths of their own trees, and preserve the aesthetics of their individual portions of the Caye.

The following needs to be done immediately to minimize our damage from Lethal Yellowing:

1) Have your trees injected with the antibiotic formula developed for use exclusively on the palm tree. This treatment is not a cure but when administered correctly on non infected healthy trees it is our only proven control measure available to keep the disease in remission indefinitely or in other words to keep the trees alive and healthy in appearance. The State of Florida has successfully kept tens of thousands of selected mature Jamaica Tall trees alive for over 20 years now with this treatment.

One of the most advanced pharmaceutical companies in the world, Phizer, along with the Florida Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida, spent millions of dollars in research and testing to devise the proper formula and delivery system for an even distribution of antibiotics to the necessary parts of the tree. A treatment service using this method will be available very soon. Please contact Chris Berlin at 014-7250 for further information.

The purpose of this treatment is to maintain our existing trees for as long as it takes to grow the disease resistant variety to a mature size.

2) Place your order for the disease resistant hybrid seedling called the Maypan which is a cross between the very disease resistant Malaya Dwarf and the mildly resistant Panama Tall. The resulting offspring inherit the disease resistance of the dwarf and the size characteristics of the Panama Tall. The Malaya Dwarf seedlings are also available. The Maypan is an equally attractive tree to what we have now and grows about at the same rate as the Belizean Tall. Given the correct planting conditions this tree can reach an acceptable size in 20 years. This might sound like a long time to have to wait but we have no other choice and with the proper treatments our original trees should still be healthy and much taller by then. Our coconut palm trees can live to be over 100 years old.

The only economically feasible supply of Maypans and Malaya Dwarfs are available from AgroPro Belize LTD at Central Farm. Tel 092-3095. They are taking orders now for delivery in the 4th quarter of 1997 and supplies could be somewhat limited if you place your order late in the year.

Proper planting instructions from AgroPro should be followed to give the seedlings the greatest chance of getting off to a good start and maximizing growth.

3) Try to minimize coconut mortality from the palm weevil (the beetle) and bud rot. Pheromone weevil traps will also be available soon and fungicides such as Ridomil are readily available from Prosser 02-35599 for the treatment of bud rot. All diseased trees should be cut down, sterilized with insecticides and burned when possible. Neither of these diseases should ever reach epidemic levels however our coconut trees will soon become as precious as ever and all measures should be taken to prevent any controllable diseases.

It would be tragic for a community to unnecessarily lose one of its natural resources. It does not have to happen here.

A seminar on Lethal Yellowing for all concerned persons will be held in San Pedro on Saturday, February 1st 10.00 a.m. at the Town Board. It will be hosted by Chris Berlin of San Pedro and by key representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture who are the Lethal Yellowing experts of Belize.

In the afternoon, property inspections will be offered for persons with unidentified diseased trees. This is our chance to have our questions answered so please make your best effort to attend.

San Pedro Sun

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