NZ declares war on coconut rhinoceros beetle in the Pacific

Additional funding from the New Zealand government is helping scientists fight the invasive coconut rhinoceros beetle in the Pacific.

A new strain of the beetle, CRB-G, is resistant to traditional control methods, and the government said it could cause $US150 million dollars to be lost from the Pacific's coconut and palm oil industries every year.

CRB-G is established in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands where it is damaging palm trees.

New Zealand is contributing about $US11 million dollars to the fight, some of which will go to science institute AgResearch.

AgResearch scientist Trevor Jackson said as well as helping to contain the beetle and stop it spreading to other countries, New Zealanders were searching for a new biological control agent.

In the 1970s, New Zealand scientists released a virus that successfully controlled the CRB-S strain of the beetle, he said.

Now they are looking for a similar weapon.

"I think the first thing is to go back to the general principle of biological control for invasive, insect pests which is to look in the center of origin and see what factors in those environments are keeping the insect under control," Dr Jackson said.

"One of the features of this beetle is that it's a distinct bio-type. With other collaborators we have found that it does exist in parts of the Philippines and parts of Asia.

"And the other thing is that because New Zealand has worked on it, since the 1960s and 70s, we do have a collection of virus strains from different parts of the region. And so we're able to look through that collection and test those strains as well."

Coconut products are becoming increasingly important to Pacific economies.

Samoa announced a 42 percent increase in export revenues this year, on the back of a 3464 percent lift in the volume of coconut oil exports.

The price of the oil has also increased by 291 percent, according to the Samoa Central Bank.

"New opportunities from the coconut are encouraging regional governments to look at renovation of old coconut plantations," Dr Jackson said.

"But if we do that we chop down the old palms which provides a large amount of breeding material for the beetle. Managing that situation is difficult.

"In some areas that's done by using the coconut as timber but we have to be careful that large trunks are not left."