DoA moves to block Christmas tree pests

| 19/11/2018 | 47 Comments

Cayman Islands, Cayman News Service(CNS): Several local merchants have opted not to sell live Christmas trees this year because the Department of Agriculture (DoA) has been clamping down on the importation of trees to keep the local environment free of pests that could pose a threat to Cayman’s indigenous flora. While some retailers have been grumbling about the regulations and stricter rules about bringing in non-native trees, officials from the DoA say it is important to keep tight control on them because of the increase in the number and types of pests detected over the last few years while the trees are in quarantine.

The DoA is responsible for protecting the wellbeing of Cayman’s plant life, and while officials are mindful of holiday traditions, the threat of invasive pest species in imported trees is real and can be far reaching.

“Many insects are non-host plant specific, also known as polyphagous, which means they will feed on a wide range of host plants,” said DoA Director Adrian Estwick. “When introduced into a new environment they may adapt and over time become a pest of plants on which they were never previously recorded as a pest. This is true of many of the scale insects, a pest group common to pines.”

He explained that the effects of the pine tortoise scale (Toumeyella parvicornis), which is believed to have been introduced on Christmas trees and has become a major pest in the Turks and Caicos Islands in particular, places a significant threat on entire pineyard ecosystems. To date, no viable control for the pest has been found and if the current trends continue, the likely outcome is the complete loss of that country’s native pine.

“I must commend my team on maintaining the careful balance needed for this endeavour,” Estwick said. “They have been working arduously to ensure the public can have Christmas trees while considering the short and long-term effects on our environment.”

He said the department had been in communication with importers and has had meetings with them since the summer, and had tried to facilitate the process through minor revisions on import conditions based on feedback received.

All revisions have been done in consultation with, and reviewed by, representatives of the Caribbean Agriculture Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) the Regional Plant Protection Organization for the Caribbean, the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Agriculture Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly offered her support to the DoA’s cautious approach.

“The focus of the DoA remains the development of effective measures to mitigate the quarantine risk associated with importation of Christmas trees and the potential introduction of invasive plant pests that could impact the agriculture and horticulture sectors and ultimately the biodiversity of the Cayman Islands,” she said, adding that this has to be balanced with minimising the economic impact on all the stakeholders, including the consumer.

Before the demand for imported pine Christmas trees began to grow, many Caymanians used local plants and trees instead, including Coconut Palm and Casuarina, which, although originally an invasive tree, has found a strong foothold and works well as a replacement Christmas Tree. Another much older Christmas tradition in Cayman was to cover yards with white sand to give the look of snow even in a tropical climate.

Meanwhile, importers who are still planning to bring in non-native pines are encouraged to contact the DoA on 947-3090 for information on importation conditions and to facilitate a successful process.

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Category: environmental health, Health

Comments (47)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Nova Scotia Pests: Tent Caterpillar, Asian Lady Bugs, a list of Aphids, Spruce budworm, Spruce Beetle, Hemlock Looper, Balsam Fir Sawfly, Whitemarked Tussock Moth, Gypsy Moth, Seedling Debarking weevil, and a long list of spiders and other flying insects.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Well at least we can still get us a Festivus pole!

  3. Anonymous says:

    If they have identified a specific pest, for a defined region that is not entrenched here and has potential to be introduced? Fine.

    But i seem to think they are of the mind to ban a shipment if a cockroach or an ant scurries out when the door of the container is unsealed.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Lat I looked Cayman didn’t have any native pines. Why is this a problem?

    • Anonymous says:

      The National Conservation council has in fact recommended eradicating the invasive casaurina. Maybe this Christmas is a good time to get started.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just decorate a tree in your yard, and get a small limb off a pine tree for your house to place presents under. There is no need to cut down a tree. commonsense eh.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is a good start….now, in a few months, we need to ban eggs….every year, some huge Bunny ravages all my eggs….he sneaks on Island in the egg delivery, i’m sure of it……

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s that bleedin’ stork we need to deal with. That thing lacks some serious judgement around here.

  7. Anon says:

    How about stop cutting down the trees!

  8. Anonymous says:

    God’s judgment on people who have turned this holiday into nothing more than a tatty commercial money maker?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Depending on your beliefs the holiday is either a religious festival or an excuse to skive off work and get hammered so who the f*** needs a tree anyway?

  10. What's safe? says:

    Agree with DoA that we don’t want pests and want to protect our flora and fauna, but other earlier reports said that the exporting countries banned the pesticide recommended by the DoA due to??? concerns to human exposure???? can we get some information here?

    • Anonymous says:

      DoA still stock and sell a long list of noxious chemicals, banned elsewhere (ie. for known carcinogens, highly toxic to fish, bees, etc), because this is the tropics, it’s cheaper, and nobody seems to care about long or short term health, or give credence to environmental impacts…it continues. Dogs get poisoned all the time.

      • Anonymous says:

        Nobody at the DoA/DoE gives a damn about chemical pollutants or anything that truly matters. I wonder if there’s a financial reason to make it difficult- best check if any of them have family running a business that can still bring the trees in. Isn’t that the only reason they act on anything?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why do we need to dig up trees to just kill for Santa Claus? Get a fake and light a pine candle in your house. Or use local something and decorate it.

    • Mike says:

      I can remember my parents many years ago using a mango tree instead of a pine tree. We had just as much fun decorating it, and it really was all about getting our presents opened and enjoying the occasion. Why not grow your own in a large pot, and use it for several years??

  12. Anonymous says:

    Buy some pine airfreshner and you guys will be fine.

  13. Dealing with Boneheaded Demigods says:

    DoA are somewhat of a joke. When I spoke to one of their chiefs earlier this year about importing beneficial insects to safely control pests on trees of mine they drew a blank. Same thing with injecting trees with pesticides instead of canopy spraying which is much more harmful to the surrounding environment. These practices are already employed by some farmers here and have been for over a decade. So why don’t they seem to know about these techniques? Duh!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Meanwhile a mega developer gets to import his trees from halfway around the earth with impunity. The pests in question probably came from China in one of his shipments.

  15. anonymous says:

    I’m not sure if a casuarina is a pine species, but if not, what native pines do we have?. If this is such a major problem why has it only just been identified after decades of importation?.
    Note for Ju Ju- can we have a sign in Lower Valley showing where the entry to the Agricultural compound is, apparently the old one was blown down months ago, and true to Government form, has never been replaced.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Better safe than sorry. Green iguanas have shown that. Maybe those persons who want a “live” tree should go back to a real tradition: cut down a small weeping willow or a nice branch and use that. Also helps to control the spread of that invasive species.

    • Anonymous says:

      Unfortunately most of the ‘weeping willows’ have been destroyed, so there is not much to choose from. South Sound used to be a popular area to harvest the trees for Christmas, when I was growing up, which is a long time ago.

    • Anonymous says:

      1146 Dahlin sorry to tell you but the weeping willow aka Casurina? Is an invasive species from Australia.

      • Anonymous says:

        The casuarina was renamed Weeping Willow and granted Caymanian Status. just cut a limb off of one and decorate it – you will be keeping up a Cayman tradition.

        Thanks CNS for a fair and intelligent report on this issue. I was surprised (but shouldn’t have been) at the criticism and apparent lack of understanding expressed in a recent report in another publication.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Let’s keep the tree in Christmas tree! Share if you agree!

  18. Anonymous says:

    So fumigate the containers. This is not complicated.

    • Anonymous says:

      The article states that no viable control for the pests have been found. In other words there is no spray or other remedy to get rid of the pests. Fumigation might kill the trees and the insects could remain alive. Sounds. Implicated to me.

      • Anonymous says:


      • Anonymous says:

        Yes this must all seem very implicated/complicated to you, whichever you prefer. Your thumbs are obviously not green. A solution does exist but our friendly neighborhood DoA swivel chair jockeys, at least those in the Grand Cayman branch haven’t tripped over it yet.

  19. Joy Norgard says:

    In Hawaii they use Norfolk Pine trees as traditional Christmas trees. They grow them on the island of Maui. Maybe they could be planted in the Cayman Islands as a local option and reduce the need to import trees?

  20. A says:

    I offer you get this shorted so we can buy real christmas trees.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Good job DoA.

    In fact these imported trees are NOT native to Cayman and are just another Importation of foreign practices and customs. We certainly do not need any more pests here.

    Let them buy an artificial tree or go back to basics and cut a local tree like we all used to do in the good old days!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Build a wall!

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m not sure that having 25,000 folks stealing other people’s trees from their land is a good idea but I would be happy to buy a local tree.

    • anonymous says:

      9.51am Are you a heathen, referring to celebrating Christmas as importation of foreign practices and customs. If we had not imported out Financial Industry where do you think Cayman would be now?.

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