Guam - UOG Entomologist Dr. Ross Miller painted a bleak picture of Guam's invasive species problem saying that we can expect the coconut rhinoceros beetle to wipe out more than half of our coconut trees and we can expect more invasive species to come.
“We can expect to lose 50 to 75 percent of our coconuts that’s just the way it's going to be,” said Dr. Miller. The UOG entomologist says this is based on the experiences of the islands of Palau who probably got the rhino beetle during World War II. "Some of the islands of Palau have been completely eluted of coconuts in the main islands of Babeldoab and Korror they've lost 50 percent,” said Dr. Miller.
Dr. Miller says the rhino beetle was found about five years ago down near a hotel in Tumon. "Probably came in a container from the Philippines on construction material,” said Dr. Miller. UOG and the Department of Agriculture has since spent about $2.5 million dollars trying to eradicate the beetle but to no avail. Now that they are established on Guam in every village Dr. Miller says eradication is no longer feasible and we're now left with finding ways to minimize the impacts.
This is why miller says it's extremely important to focus on preventing any new invasive species from getting a foothold on the island and the newest one that he's concerned about is the little fire ant. "It's called fire ant because even though it's a very very tiny ant the sting is like fire very very painful and it's not related to the other fire ant on Guam we have a red ant that most people have encountered,” explained Dr. Miller. The entomologist believes that this ant will probably be a worse ecological disaster than the brown tree snake. "It's also a pest of animals. Domestic animals are usually covered with them. They don't detect them until...the dogs and cats they don't start scratching until they start to sting and they also sting the eyes so a lot of animals especially in Hawaii now are blind because of the ant. That means the cornea has actually been stung multiple times. They cause a lot of economic problems in Hawaii now you can't get pickers on the Big Island to harvest your crops because they don't want to deal with it,” said Dr. Miller. The ants are tiny and gold brown in color. They infest forests and like to live in trees particularly banana trees. "Probably our biggest problem that we would have here are impacts to tourism. If we had little fire ants on Ypao beach for example nobody would want to be on Ypao beach for very long. We would have to use massive amounts of pesticides to control them,” said Dr. Miller.
To illustrate the destructiveness of invasive species Dr. Miller points to the cycad scale that over the last five years has killed nearly all of Guam’s native cycad trees known as fadang in Chamorro. "At one time we had 1.6 million cycad trees that are native to Guam really no where else. Sicus Micronesica, and now we have less than 5 percent of those. So in about five years we lost almost 1.5 million trees due to this insect that was first found over here at the Hyatt and at the Hilton,” said Dr. Miller.
The entomologist says that he's been trying unsuccessfully to get grant funding or any federal funding to eradicate the little fire ant. He estimates that they need at least $250 thousand dollars to begin eradication efforts but so far GovGuam has only pledged about $15 thousand.