Vanuatu declares a state of emergency as beetles threaten crucial coconut industry Pacific Beat By Pacific affairs reporter Liam Fox


A state of emergency has been declared in Vanuatu not because of a natural disaster or civil unrest, but because of a beetle.

The coconut rhinoceros beetle has the potential to devastate the country’s coconut industry, as well as the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of people who depend upon it.

The pest was first found on the north-west coast of Efate island in May, not far from the capital Port Vila, and has since been found at sites several kilometres away.

Copra — dried coconut flesh — is one of Vanuatu’s biggest export products.

The beetles damage coconut palms by boring into the centre of the crown to feed on sap.

The declaration of a state of emergency has allowed authorities to set up restriction zones around infected areas.

“We’ve getting more grubs collected, we’re getting more breeding sites destroyed, we’re getting more numbers of adult beetles,” Leisongi Bulesulu, a plant health officer from the Department of Biosecurity, told the ABC.

A fungus used for biological control is also being grown in a laboratory and will be placed into artificial breeding sites to eradicate the pests.

It is believed the beetle may have originated in Asia, but it has previously decimated coconut and oil palm plantations in parts of Solomon Islands after its arrival there in 2015.

Dyson Wilson, general manager of Vanuatu Copra and Cocoa Exports, said the big risk is if the coconut rhinoceros beetle spreads from Efate to other islands.

“If it spreads to the north and centre of Vanuatu where the main producing areas for copra are, that means it’s going to be really destructive for our coconuts,” he said.