Lethal Yellow Disease


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"Lethal Yellow" Disease Devastates Nevis Coconut Palm Trees

Lethal Yellowing disease has now marched up Pinney’s beach, and is in the process of destroying the coconut palms at Nelson’s Springs and the stretch of Pinney’s up to Mariner’s. Only a few dwarf coconuts and trees which have been treated with Oxytetracycline,(OTC) an antibiotic which suppresses the bacteria causing Lethal Yellowing, show signs of resisting the onslaught.

At a recent meeting with Minister Robelto Hector and the head of the Nevis Agriculture Department, Dr. Kelvin Daly, the government’s position was articulated: Properties which are part of the tourism product, such as Four Seasons Resort and Nisbet Plantation, will be allowed to import OTC to treat trees which are also part of a management program, so that the nuts do not become part of the food chain.

The Nevis government will not condone treatment of large abandoned coconut estates, because vendors harvest the nuts from these areas and sell them to the public. They do not believe it would be possible to control the distribution and consumption of nuts from these areas. At issue is the question of whether the amounts of OTC which would be consumed in the nuts, or in honey from bees taking pollen from treated palms, would eventually result in strains of bacteria which are resistant to OTC. The US, in particular, does not allow products to enter the country which have antibiotics in them, for fear that these antibiotics will eventually become ineffective in treating human disease.

Dead coconut trees now line Pinney's Beach due to the "Lethal Yellow" disease

Typical "L.Y." disease symptoms, palm fronds turn from healthy green to sickly yellow, to dead brown and then fall off

It was not clear from the meeting whether the government objects to private individuals treating trees on their own property. At present, a number of persons are offering to provide this service to homeowners. In other cases, individuals have imported their own treatment kits. In June, representatives from Tree Savers, a commercial operation that sells OTC and related equipment, provided a seminar in Lethal Yellowing at Nisbet Plantation.
The Agriculture Department has begun wholesale clearing of coconut palms in the area of Pinney’s beach along the road to the several beach restaurants. A chipper has been brought in to turn the trees into a mulch which will be available to the public at a very competitive cost. The mulch is apparently safe for use, as the disease is confined to the palm fronds and efflorescence, and does not affect the trunk of the tree.

By Marsha Meyers, President NHCS

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