Work is well underway in Kerikeri today as the battle begins to try to contain the fungal plant disease myrtle rust.
Myrtle rust was found for the first time on the New Zealand mainland earlier this week. It has the potential to seriously affect plants in the myrtle family, which includes some of New Zealand’s iconic species such as pōhutukawa, rātā and mānuka, as well as production plants, including eucalypts and feijoa.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), along with the Department of Conservation (DOC), iwi, industry partners and the local council are focused today on a range of field activities to determine the scale of the infection.
MPI’s Director Response Geoff Gwyn says a field headquarters has been set up at the DOC office in Kerikeri.
"Today, ground teams continue work at the plant nursery where plants were found with the distinctive yellow growths on their leaves.
"They've already sprayed the affected property with a fungicide and are now working out from the nursery in a methodical manner, searching myrtle species trees in the wider area for signs of the disease.
"The nursery itself is under biosecurity controls and restrictions are in place on the movement of plants and people on and off the property. We have also contacted all other nurseries in the area to prevent the movement of any infected plants out of the area," Mr Gwyn says.
MPI staff are checking for signs of myrtle rust at some 800 high-risk surveillance sites across the upper North Island, including 300 sites in Northland. In addition, DOC officials have started targeted searches of myrtle species across conservation land.
As well as work in the field, a large response team is driving activities from Wellington with planning underway for future effort.
Mr Gwyn says rust diseases such as myrtle rust are notoriously difficult to control and internationally there has never been a successful eradication of myrtle rust.
"However, we have the best and earliest opportunity here to strike what appears to be a contained incursion. Only time will tell if this is the case."
Mr Gwyn says the nursery owner is to be congratulated for making such a prompt notification to MPI.
"The earlier we find out about a potential incursion, the greater chance we have of managing it."
MPI is working with partners, including the forestry, nursery and honey industries to ensure their members are aware of what they can do to help.
A public awareness campaign is underway including radio and newspaper advertisements, social media, and visits to local farmers markets this weekend.
Members of the public are encouraged to be alert for signs of myrtle rust. It appears as bright yellow/orange powdery patches on leaves of myrtle plants. Affected leaves may buckle or die off.
If people believe they have seen myrtle rust, they should not touch it or try to take a sample. Instead, take a photo, including of the affected plant, and contact MPI on 0800 80 99 66.