Mosquito trouble is the worst for decades

| 06/09/2021 | 75 Comments
Cayman News Service
Dr Alan Wheeler and Chief Officer Nellie Pouchie on Radio Cayman

(CNS): Mosquito and Research Control Unit Director Dr Alan Wheeler has blamed the worst mosquito problems for two decades on a number of natural factors, such as COVID-19 and Tropical Storm Grace, but not the management issues that have surrounded the MRCU over the last two years. Wheeler, who was appointed as director in July this year, said that they were working hard to tackle the surge in the black salt march species causing the current trouble.

However, the MRCU had been dealing with a number of problems under the leadership of Dr Jim McNelly, who led the unit from March 2018 to March 2021. He left under a cloud, after his staff sent a letter to the ministry claiming that, rather than the tried and tested methods of mosquito control that Cayman had deployed to significant success, he had switched to methods that had contributed to the widespread rise in black salt marsh mosquitoes and the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti.

When Dr Wheeler appeared on Radio Cayman’s For the Record last week, he apologised for the outbreak of the swamp species and described the activities currently underway. He said the surge in the marsh mosquito was largely a result of the reduced control efforts last year during the pandemic, high tides both last year and this, followed by back to back storms over the last month that created flooding in the wetlands.

One man-made problem impacting the control of swamp and marsh mosquitoes that Dr Wheeler did identify was development, which is cutting into the wetlands and breaking up the mangrove areas into smaller and smaller pieces. This makes the aerial operations to deploy the larvicide used to keep all of the native mosquito numbers that breed in the wetlands under control much more difficult.

He explained that spraying the disconnected reduced areas is much more difficult than spraying across a larger area, and as a result the MRCU was examining the possibility of using drones to control the reduced areas of mangrove on the western side of the island.

The MRCU is currently focused heavily on responsive control because of the current surge and has turned its attention away from researching new methods, but Dr Wheeler said they expect the black salt marsh to be under control by the end of this week.

He accepted that the situation had become worse over the last two years but said he believed that by next year things would be back under control. This year the unit has been concentrating on killing adult mosquitoes, but the most important work was the larvicide, which targets the eggs.

Dr Wheeler said his staff has been working flat out for the last six weeks. However, he said nothing about recent allegations that the unit continues to be plagued by staffing problems and a shortage of pilots and technicians to keep the two small planes in the air.

CNS has persistently asked for information about staff shortages, the number of pilots and succession planning at the MRCU but none of our questions have been answered.

See Wheeler’s appearance on For the Record on Radio Cayman YouTube channel below:

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Category: Government Administration, Land Habitat, Politics, Science & Nature

Comments (75)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The result of focussing on getting the job rather than doing the job… Years of plotting and undermining, now he harvests what he sowed, as we do!

  2. Tony Montana says:

    M.R.C.U is the leading department of the entire government, this is my humble opinion.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Fogging trucks out in Prospect last night. This morning I found a LOT of dead mosquitoes floating in the pool. And Thankfully no bees .. and didn’t get bitten on my walk! Finally able to go out without being bitten and worse, having mosquitoes follow me into the house and pester me for hours!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Where is the advertising for the 2nd pilot position?? It should have been there months ago, total absence of management and planning! Utter incompetence!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I love hearing people say that the mosquitos that are biting are the “oxitec” mosquitos. There are 35 different species on this island.

  6. Darlene Mckenzie says:

    With no disrespect. One more year too get things up in running. Our people will have too stay in on lock down. Because of the angry pickersome mosquitoes and smoke from the fires in our communities people trying too help keep the mosquitoes away.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps this is a result of their previous work? Don’t get all religious on me frothing at the mouth.
    I am just making a suggestion.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ok. Here is a more realistic suggestion. There was a tropical storm. It rained a lot. There was a ton of standing water. Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water. Nobody has been spraying
      A week or two later you get swarms. Its not complicated. It has nothing to do with what happened years ago.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Let’s stop blaming one another and just fix it! Can’t go outside even during the day time because they are so horrendous. T

  9. Anonymous says:

    classi civil servant….never taking responsibility

  10. Single Seat Tail Dragger says:

    Actual MRCU auto reply from 2020:

    “Out of office until further notice from the Government – Due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

    Until then, take care and keep safe.”

    Covid. The official excuse for everything.

    • It’s a Mozzie free for all says:

      Instead, welcome to Malaria, the virus that’s impossible to shake. How about some Dengue for breakfast Chikungunya for lunch and Zika for supper?

  11. Anonymous says:

    When he was continually agitating against and undermining the previous Directors Wheeler was always blaming their poor mgmt- but now he has the job it’s all ‘natural factors ’ !!??
    Seems like it’s easy to criticize but harder to do …

    • Anonymous says:

      Spot on comment! He has always been a major part of the problem in that department as he stirs up problems and creates conflict within. He has undermined the directors position for the past 10-15 years consistently and now that he finally holds the position he has bullied himself into he is making nonsense excuses…

    • Anonymous says:

      I concur.

      Grace should not even been mentioned in this. There is a systemic management collapse at the MRCU, mainly due to the reasons you mentioned. Wheeler is part to blame for creating chaos.

      There is no foresight and no planning.

      XXXX I understand, for example, the main pilot reached retirement age and was not granted renewal of contract. If true, a leader would rehire on a contract basis for continuity while a training programme is in place to eventually replace him. The retirement age didn’t just appear. It was known to be coming up. So this may have very well resulted in a stall of spraying by plane and therefore in part has contributed to the surge in mosquito population.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Dr. Wheeler is spouting total BS!! Even though apparently Dr. McNelly was no prize, it appears this increase in mosquitos all over the island has happened on Dr. Wheeler’s watch!

    I’ve lived in my home for 29 years and enjoyed every evening outdoors without ANY mosquitos until the last 2 months! I’ve witnessed many rainy seasons and hurricanes (incl. Ivan) and never experienced mosquitos like this in my area!

    I posted a comment to CNS when Dr. Petrie left MRCU and surely my comment has come to pass!!

    Dr. Wheeler, please get these mosquitos under control quick, WITHOUT subjecting us to ANY MORE dangerous chemicals or… give up the post!!!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Typical mismanagement for a little third world island. Get used to it. It is only going to get worse as the money runs out. There is no functional Mosquito and Research Control Unit on island and there will not be until the UK steps up.

    • Anonymous says:

      Since you always want the U.K. to “step in” maybe you should just “step out”.

      Last time I checked U.K. wasn’t the beacon to which all countries aspire.

      • Anonymous says:

        Maybe we should rather have the USA step in then? Or maybe the Taliban for that matter?

      • Anon says:

        I think, the point is, not that the UK presents some sort of nirvana, more that they are too hands off when they should be ‘hands on’ forcing the politicians to serve the people and not themselves. Staffing will always be an issue here for specialist roles BUT there is NEVER any urgency to get critical roles filled. Maybe the politicians should be paid on performance. It might make the civil service act. Quicker.

        • Say it like it is says:

          4.42pm Payment on performance is only as good as the appraiser.In Govt and the Civil Service it is impossible to find an independent appraiser apart from the Auditor General who already has her hands full.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think the island would be better off if you and your “kind” step out. I didn’t say they were the best, but they are your keepers. Wait a year and see what they will have to do to save Cayman islands from the human virus that is destroying it now.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry to say but the concept of controlling mosquitos through spraying chemicals and larvicides all over us is outdated, unsafe and has to change. Genetically modified mosquitos is the future. Miami knew this when they head hunted Bill Petrie away from Cayman. This is the exact correct use of GMOs. Give me a sterile male mosquito over carcinogenic and teratogenic chemical sprays any day.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why people don’t get this is mind boggling. We need Oxitech back.

    • Anonymous says:

      07@6:25 am – Hmmm…”genetically modified mosquitos is the future”?? Clearly you are either not in the Cayman Islands or were not here when the Oxitec experiments were conducted here a few years ago with gen-modified mosquitos. Google it!

      How has that worked out??

      • Anonymous says:

        See but I was here and I’m wondering what you saw cause it was working. Or are you one of those that thinks you get herpes from a bite?

  15. Anonymous says:

    civil service and cig incomptence. end of story.

    • Anonymous says:

      You mean typical expatriate arrogance and incompetency. Couldn’t cut it elsewhere so they come here to mess us up.

      We made him someone as we did with many of you.

  16. Anonymous says:

    “CNS has persistently asked for information about staff shortages, the number of pilots and succession planning at the MRCU but none of our questions have been answered.“

    Doesn’t the “T” in PACT stand for transparency?

    We sure fell for that one, hook line and sinker off the back of a Hatteras.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Someone needs to do an FOI request for the stats on mosquitoes caught in the MRCU’s traps over say the past 5 years, and the changes in techniques / chemicals made in the same period.

    I heard they counted 19k mosquitoes from a single trap in West Bay in a 24 hour period a couple of weeks ago. COVID my ass!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Something bugs me about this story.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Are we done blaming stuff on Ivan already?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Can we stop using chemicals that kill the bees please, I see them suffering on the ground every morning after the plane has been spraying in our area.

    • Anonymous says:

      SAME! It’s terrible.

    • Anonymous says:

      We need more Bat houses all over the island.

      • Anonymous says:

        I plan on building one. Everyone should and MRCU should be putting them up around swamp areas. We need oxitech type science back too. Spraying chemicals all over us is causing long term brain damage.

    • Anonymous says:

      The concern should be for all our insect and wider arthropod biodiversity. Honey bees are merely a non-native, invasive species acting as the canary in the coalmine.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I smell total BS excuses. MRCU workers were considered essential workers, no need to blame the pandemic (very convenient though). A more plausible excuse was runway resurfacing, but he failed to mention that and preferred to blame others. High tides occur every year so that isn’t valid either. Seems like the new director wants to blame everyone but himself!

  22. Anonymous says:

    The horrible mosquito outbreak of the last three years coincided with the appointment of the previous Director. That cannot be a coincidence.

    But what is so puzzling is that MRCU is a critical Govt agency. Why did the previous PPM Govt allow it to go off the rails? Will the new PACT Govt take urgent steps to resolve the situation?

    You would think that every Govt since 1966 would have put MRCU to the top of the list for funding and resources. Grand Cayman is totally reliant on this agency for the health and comfort of local life and the viability of the tourism industry.

    • Anonymous says:

      This director has been with MRCU for a long time, he is part of the failure.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is the problem in many government entities- they ignore problems until there is a crisis. I was walking on South Sound last week after 7 pm and it was like walking into a nest. My ears were bitten, my legs, etc. I have lived here for more than 25 years and I have never encountered any thing like this. It is alarming how Government ignores our urgent concerns.

  23. Anonymous says:

    The fact that CNS has been unable to get answers to basic questions is, in my opinion, a clear indication that the MRCU management is being less than fully honest about our mosquito control problems. This does not reflect positively on the current MRCU leadership and management and it would reasonably cause one to conclude the the MRCU continues to lack the leadership needed to get our mosquito problems under control.

    • Anonymous says:

      Spot on!

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s always been that way, I recall asking Mr. Petrie about chemicals used in their control of mosquitoes both historically and present. He clearly avoided naming any and said whatever they used and were using were safe.
      Being opaque about these things only breeds mistrust. I wonder if anyone at DOE, DEH, Water Authority, or MRCU is actually doing any soil/surface water testing to see how long chemicals they use stick around?
      I understand there are risks and benefits to using insecticides but to be cloak and dagger about it does not help the public weight those risks.

  24. Anonymous says:

    What does covid have to do with this. The planes could fly, same way the RCIPS operations carried on. And actually saying they have been flat out for six weeks?? With one plane grounded because they finished a pilot (who is Caymanian, so not sure what the contract issue is) – all smacks of mismanagement under the current watch.

  25. Rodney Bar says:

    I do believe that the good doctor needs to understand that he works for us. The taxpayers and voters of the Cayman Islands.

    When re[resemtatives of the people, such as the press ask questions, they should receive answers. And the answers should be provided promptly and completely, with supporting data. Not just excuses and vague run-around responses.

  26. A regular Joe says:

    Millions $$$ “spent” on controlling mosquitoes over the years, a few more millions to control iguanas, the results…. Just open your door or window, at any given time, day or night.

    • Anonymous says:

      Can you imagine what it would look like if nothing was spent? As far as mosquitos and fresh water go, these islands aren’t fit for human habitation without spending large amounts of money. It is what it is

  27. Anonymous says:

    Blame it on global warming

  28. Anonymous says:

    Why no mention of the FACT that the MRCU pilot had come to the end of his contract, MRCU had not bothered with succession planning (as per almost every CIG agency) and they had to offer him another contract to dig them out of a deep hole? Thought not.

    • Anonymous says:

      6:24. You are making stuff up. Ask the Caymanian pilot currently flying the mosquito plane.

      How did he get the job. Succession planning. Bingo!!

      • Anonymous says:

        Both pilots are Caymanian – bingo! Do you know what succession planning is?

        You have two pilots, one was ‘retired’ where is his successor – Bingo!

        The remaining pilot is a very good Caymanian pilot but he can’t do the job alone – Bingo!

      • Anonymous says:

        He didn’t retire. Wanted to renew his contract and it didn’t happen, but no one ready in his place. Something smells in all this

    • Anonymous says:


  29. Anonymous says:

    Covid and storm grace are attributing factors? How? Talk about making excuses

    • Anonymous says:

      Well. The storm left a lot of standing water. Where do you think mosquitoes come from?

      • Anonymous says:

        Where do you think larvicide comes from? It takes a few days for a mosquito to emerge from standing water.

        • Anonymous says:

          How many days if the water is sitting not standing?

        • Anonymous says:

          I think that it’s very easy for all you armchair quarterbacks to sit here and complain. I think anyone with a brain would realise that it would be impossible to get larvicide into pools of water covering the island that quickly. Even if the MRCU was being run competently. And we all know it isn’t. But to suggest that the storm isn’t a cause of this is pretty dumb.

      • Tony says:

        Every storm, even just a tropical wave, produces plenty of standing water.

  30. Mikey says:

    Let’s not forget the $8,000 000.00 was spent on Oxitec to solve this project. The great mosquito release thanks alot

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah. 8 million dollars Is more than I made in the last three years!!!!! You don’t suppose there is any hanky-panky going on with the mosquito control, do you?

    • Anonymous says:

      Oxitec was an initiative supported by the current Premier’s chief officer. The former MRCU boss was hired under her as well. I could go on and on but will stop there. You should get the drift.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s why Jennifer was cocooned by Franz and now released to the “waving hands Premier”.

        Incompetence Rewarded Always, the motto of this new world class CI civil service.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Tell Dale to turn his zapper on.

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