Saturday,1 June, 2013
Weevil invades eco-Gozo
Alfred E. Baldacchino
The red palm weevil first set foot in the Maltese Islands in 2007. Despite the expanse of the natural adequate sea barrier preventing this weevil from crossing over to the Maltese Islands – it can only fly a distance of one kilometre – it did manage to get a free ride on infected palm trees imported from Egypt and Europe.
The bad news was relayed through a press release issued on 24 October 2007, by the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment informing the public of the Red Palm Weevil’s presence in Malta. It quickly established itself and from St. Paul’s Bay, where the infected trees were housed, it spread to Salini, Qawra, Mosta, Attard, Mtafra, Rabat, Siġġiewi, Żebbuġ, Luqa: in a short spell it spread all over the island of Malta.
The transportation of palm trees to Gozo was immediately withheld. The expanse of sea between the islands also served as a natural barrier preventing its dispersal.
A parliamentary question dated 25 March 2009, revealed that 310 palm trees were uprooted in Malta. These consisted of 121 from public places and 189 from private gardens. This year, on the 5 May, another parliamentary question further revealed that during the first four months of 2013, a total of 248 palm trees infected by the Red Palm Weevil, were uprooted in Malta.
From 2008 to 2013, the total number of palm trees officially uprooted is 558: the result of the mismanagement of Maltese biodiversity, reflecting the hidden costs paid by society and the ecosystem.
I was under the impression (up to Sunday, 21 May 2013) that the Red Palm Weevil was prevented from invading Gozo, and palm trees there were safe. It was on these thoughts that I expressed myself during a comment on the Red Palm Weevil on the national TV station news bulletin. But my optimism was short lived.
No sooner had the news been transmitted than a Gozitan friend of mine phoned to inform me that the red palm weevil had officially established itself in Gozo since September 2012, despite the fact that trees landing at Imgarr Gozo are monitored.
On the morrow, another Gozitan friend contacted me to tell me that a relative of his had some palm trees on his land, which trees had also been attacked by the red palm weevil.
To add insult to injury, after reporting such infected trees, he was given a warning from the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Environment, that if the infected trees were not uprooted in a couple of days he would be heavily fined to the tune of €666.66!
Why has the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil been kept a secret to this day? Why were the Gozitans not informed of the invasion by this introduced weevil, so that they could take any precautionary measures they deemed necessary?
Before I am so rudely reminded, I do recall that since the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil, there was a general election!
The larva of the Red Palm Weevil
Imported alien species all carry a hidden cost, no matter what politicians, entrepreneurs or public officials say or think.
And while landscapers cash on quick profits, and politicians gloat on the number of imported trees and flowers planted, and prime ministers tour ecological time bombs, the hidden cost is borne by society and the ecosystem.
Such burden is becoming heavier and heavier. Great Britain, an island, spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species. The EU, the largest importer of alien species, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. Brussels has belatedly realised that the free movement of goods with regards to living species, whether flora or fauna, is playing with a very expensive time bomb.
The larva of the Red Palm Weevil at work
One hopes that Government will not follow the path of its predecessor, and will immediately intervene and take action.
The red palm weevil is just a living example. There are other invasive alien species, some which have already made their mark and issued invoices, such as the geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry long horned beetle, the Asian tiger mosquito, while others are still building on their populations before their impact is felt and seen, such as the number of land snails slowly but surely dispersing outwards from their nurseries.
Cocoons of the Red Palm Weevil spun by the larvae, before they emerge as adult weevils
Social and ecological considerations are not even factored in the maximisation of profits of such businesses, which up to the ides of March 2013 had political backing.
The bottom line is that eco-Gozo, and Malta, despite obligatory phytosanitary certificates, political half-baked measures, colourful publications, and national and international legal obligations, have been invaded by an alien species despite persistent warnings.
Gozo is such a small island that the red palm weevil won’t have any problem infesting each and every palm tree there.
Furthermore, it is not that difficult – if there is the will – to trace where new palm trees have been planted.
The fatal works of the Red Palm Weevil
Along with habitat destruction, over-exploitation, and the domino effect of extinction of species, Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond has included invasive species as one of the “Four Horsemen” of this ecological apocalypse.
One of the 600 dead palm trees killed by the Red Palm Weevil at Mtarfa. Who’s paying for the damages?
Eco-Gozo and the Maltese ecosystem now have to pay through their noses for such self inflicted political mismanagement and for ignoring national and international obligations showing the complete failure of virtual eco-Gozo and the once environmental pillar.
Will this apocalypse horse gallop on unbridled, spurred by financial greed?