Travelers attending the Merrie Monarch Festival later this week on Hawaiʻi Island are being reminded by the Department of Agriculture about quarantine restrictions on the transport of ʻōhiʻa from the island due to a serious plant disease called rapid ʻōhiʻa death, which is devastating the native forests on Big Island.
The quarantine restricts the movement of ʻōhiʻa plants and plant parts, including flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, twigs, cuttings, untreated wood, logs, mulch greenwaste and frass (sawdust from boring insects) and any soil from Hawaiʻi Island. Transport of such items is only allowed with a permit issued by the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture.
The Merrie Monarch Festival draws dozens of hula halau and hundreds of spectators to Hawaiʻi Island. Officials note that the very act of harvesting ʻōhiʻa may spread the disease as spores may be carried in soil and by harvesting tools, vehicles, shoes and clothing to uninfected areas.
HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch will be sending crews of inspectors from across the state to airports in both Hilo and Kona to boost inspection capacity near the end of the Merrie Monarch Festival, which runs from April 1-7.
From April 6-9, special inspection stations will be set up at the airports where passengers may turn in any ʻōhiʻa material before boarding flights. Plant Quarantine offices in Kona and Hilo will also be accepting ʻōhiʻa material for proper disposal.
“We ask that everyone be mindful of the quarantine restrictions,” said Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawaiʻi Board of Agriculture. “So far, we have been able to prevent the spread of the disease to other islands and continued vigilance is essential.”
Multi-agency ROD working groups have been meeting with Native Hawaiian groups, the Merrie Monarch organization and other community groups to provide advice and guidance on the handling of ʻōhiʻa material.
ROD was first noticed in 2010 in Puna. In 2014, the fungus was initially identified as Ceratocystis fimbriata by researchers at the US Department of Agriculture’s Daniel K. Inouye Agricultural Research Service.
In 2014, it was estimated that the disease covered approximately 6,000 acres from Kalapana to Hilo and exhibited tree mortality rates of more than 50%.
Currently, it is estimated to infect about 135,000 acres around Hawaiʻi Island. So far, the disease has not been found on other islands. It is not known how the disease entered the state or where it came from.
The Hawaiʻi Board of Agriculture issued the emergency quarantine in August 2015 to stop the spread of the plant fungus from Hawaiʻi Island to other islands. Any person who violates the quarantine rule may be charged with a misdemeanor and fined not less than $100 with a maximum fine of $10,000. For a second offense committed within five years of a prior conviction under this rule, the person or organization shall be fined not less than $500 and not more than $25,000.
HDOA Plant Quarantine inspectors have printed an ʻōhiʻa quarantine informational flyer that explains the quarantine and what travelers cannot transport off of Hawaiʻi Island. Information is also available on the department’s website .
Travelers seeking more inspection information may contact HDOA’s Plant Quarantine offices:
Hilo – (808) 974-4141
Honolulu – (808) 837-8413
Kauaʻi – (808) 241-7135
Kona – (808) 326-1077
Maui – (808) 872-3848