Merrie Monarch Travelers Must Be Aware of ‘Ōhia Quarantine
Travelers attending the Merrie Monarch Festival this week are being reminded about quarantine restrictions on the transport of ‘ōhia from Hawai‘i Island due to a serious plant disease called rapid ‘ōhia death (ROD), which is devastating the native forests on that island.
The quarantine restricts the movement of ‘ōhia plants and plant parts, including flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, twigs, cuttings, untreated wood, logs, mulch, greenwaste and frass (sawdust from boring insects) and any soil from Hawai‘i Island. Transport of such items is only allowed with a permit issued by the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA).
“With the spread of rapid ‘ōhia death on Hawai‘i Island, it is even more critical that ‘ōhia not be taken off the island,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture. “State agricultural inspectors are setting up additional inspection stations at airports in Hilo and Kona to remind travelers about the ‘ōhia quarantine.”
HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch will be sending crews of inspectors from Honolulu to Hilo International Airport and Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole to boost inspection capacity near the end of the Merrie Monarch Festival, which runs from April 21 through 27, 2019. Special inspection stations will be set up at the airports where passengers may turn in any ‘ōhia material before boarding flights. Plant Quarantine offices in Kona and Hilo will also be accepting ‘ōhia material for proper handling.
The Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture issued the emergency quarantine in August 2015 to stop the spread of the plant fungus from Hawai‘i Island to other islands. Any person who violates the quarantine rule may be charged with a misdemeanor and fined not less than $100 with a maximum fine of $10,000. For a second offense committed within five years of a prior conviction under this rule, the person or organization shall be fined not less than $500 and not more than $25,000.
HDOA Plant Quarantine inspectors have printed an ‘ōhia quarantine informational flyer that explains the quarantine and what travelers cannot transport off of Hawai‘i Island. Information is also available on the department’s website.
The Merrie Monarch Festival draws dozens of hula hālau and hundreds of spectators to Hawai‘i Island. It is important to note that the very act of harvesting ‘ōhia may spread the disease as spores may be carried in soil and by harvesting tools, vehicles, shoes and clothing to uninfected areas.
Multi-agency ROD working groups have been meeting with Native Hawaiian groups, the Merrie Monarch organization and other community groups to provide advice and guidance on the handling of ‘ōhia material.
ROD was first noticed in 2010 in Puna. In 2014, the fungus was initially identified as Ceratocystis fimbriata by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Daniel K. Inouye Agricultural Research Service. Recent research has reclassified Ceratocystis fimbriata into two distinct species that are new to science, Ceratocystis lukuohia and Ceratocystis huliohia.
In 2014, it was estimated that the disease covered approximately 6,000 acres from Kalapana to Hilo and exhibited tree mortality rates of more than 50 percent. In 2018, aerial surveys estimated ROD has infected about 135,000 acres around Hawaii Island. In 2018, the disease was also detected in a few areas on Kauai, but has not been found on other islands. It is not known how the disease entered the state or where it came from.
Travelers seeking more inspection information may contact HDOA’s Plant Quarantine offices:
Hilo – (808) 971-9393 Honolulu – (808) 837-8413 Kaua‘i – (808) 241-7135
Kona – (808) 326-1077 Maui – (808) 872-3848