Dead coconut palm, believed to have fallen victim to a plant disease, in Mathew Massimissa's yard in Kewarra Beach.
Dead coconut palm, believed to have fallen victim to a plant disease, in Mathew Massimissa's yard in Kewarra Beach.

Palm disease flagged as ‘too hard’ a problem

A PLANT expert fears a disease killing off palm trees across Cairns may spread to endangered species after biosecurity officials decided the disease was too hard to eradicate.

Three levels of government have been trying to find out how to control the plant disease, believed to be bacterial in nature, that has affected at least six species of palms across the Far North.

The pathogen has led to the deaths of coconut palms on the northern beaches and exotic palms in the Cairns Botanic Gardens during the past year.

A Department of Agriculture and Water spokesman said the detection of the disease had been considered by an emergency plant pest committee.

"Through the committee, potentially affected industries and the Australian, state and territory governments have determined that the disease may be native to Australia and it would not be technically feasible to contain or eradicate," he said.

He said the matter had been referred to the national management group for a decision, however investigations into the disease were ongoing.

Australian Tropical Herbarium director Darren Crayn said the disease had been detected in one native palm so far.

"It is therefore a potential threat to some of our local species such as the endangered Myolan Alexandra palm (Archontophoenix myolensis, which is found only in the Myola area near Kuranda, and the fan palm (Licuala ramsyii), which is a dominant species in the endangered fan palm swamp forests," Prof Crayn said.

He said scientists were unsure of whether the pathogen was native to Australia. "This is because there is still so much of Australia's biodiversity yet to discover, let alone understand, that for many kinds of organisms including those of biosecurity concern, we cannot reliably answer the simple question 'is it native or not?'" he said.

"We need to invest more in our declining workforce of specialists who are able to authoritatively identify organisms."