A tree that’s critical to Hawaii’s water supply, endangered native birds and Hawaiian cultural traditions such as hula, has been getting increasingly killed by a newly found fungus. Rapid ohia death named disease has hit the Big Island’s hundreds of thousands of ohia lehua trees.
It has reportedly affected 50% of the ohia trees throughout 6,000 acres of forest as of last year, but since then it’s believed to have spread more. So far, it’s been discovered mainly in Puna, but also in Kona and Kau. It hasn’t been found anywhere else worldwide.
The forest health coordinator at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Robert Hauff, said the state is looking forward to aerial surveys in the coming month to know how many acres have got affected by the fungus. A world expert in similar diseases is also likely to visit the islands for making the state aware about how the outbreak can be controlled.
During a news conference in Honolulu, Hauff told reporters, “Worst case scenario is that it spreads statewide and it decimates all of our ohia forests. It’s a pretty bleak picture”.
Ohia is crucial to the water supply because it’s very effective at absorbing water into the ground and the watershed restocking. The native birds also need it because the animals feed on its nectar. Besides, it also provides a shelter to native plants that grow under it in the forests.
Rules have been created by the state Department of Agriculture that prohibits movement of flowers, wood and other ohia tree parts between islands. The state has also encouraged people to clean tools that they use on ohia and suggested use of clean shoes and clothes near ohia.