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Fungal disease found on Raoul Island

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 4/04/2017

A fungal disease dubbed in Australia as "the cane toad of plant diseases" has made it to the Kermadecs, sparking fears for vegetation there and warnings about what could happen if it made it to New Zealand.

Myrtle rust has been found on Kermadec pohutukawa trees on Raoul Island, about 1000km northeast of the country, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation confirmed this week.

The South American native causes purple/black splotches or patches with yellow dots on leaves and stems. Leaves and stems can become buckled or twist and die off.

Severe infections can kill plants and in Australia it caused the extinction of several species of significance to Aborigines, as well as hitting commercial crops.

If it entered New Zealand it could attack pohutukawa, kanuka, manuka and rata - potentially affecting honey crops - as well as commercially grown species such as eucalyptus, guava and feijoa.

MPI's Geoff Gwyn says myrtle rust spores can carry long distances on the wind, however, Raoul Island is very remote.

"Access to the island is strictly controlled and only by permit. Those visiting Raoul Island are mainly scientists and maintenance people, mostly working for DOC," he said.

"Our focus right now is to do what we can to protect the unique Raoul Island ecosystem from this disease, and to prevent the further spread of the fungus to mainland New Zealand."

Australian experts will be consulted for their knowledge in dealing with the disease.

New Zealand already has biosecurity measures to protect against myrtle rust introduction, including a complete ban on imports of cut flowers and foliage from myrtle species from New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

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