Test results showing the presence of Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA) or Kauri dieback disease in the Whangapoua Forest just north of Whitianga is a major concern, Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy say.
“This is a serious blow to our efforts to conserve kauri and protect it from this disease. I am taking a precautionary approach by immediately closing the affected area to reduce the risk of spread. It will also enable time to determine the extent of the disease and our on-going management of kauri dieback in the wake of this negative news,” Dr Smith says.
“Kauri dieback has been found in Northland, the Waitakere Ranges and on Great Barrier Island, but not on the Coromandel Peninsula. This is a concern because it has not previously been found in the Waikato and there is a large and valued remnant of kauri forests in this region,” Mr Guy says.
Dr Smith today in Whitiangi with MPI and DOC officials briefed local iwi, Coromandel MP Scott Simpson, the Kauri 2000 Trust, local government including the Whitianga Community Board, Thames-Coromandel District Council and the Waikato Regional Council on the test results and the implications for the Coromandel community. Notice of closure to the 319-hectare Whangapoua Forest/Hukarahi Conservation Area was signed today by Dr Smith using Section 13 (1)(c) of the Conservation Act 1987 to take immediate effect.
Kauri dieback disease is caused by a microscopic, fungus-like organism which infects the trees’ roots and damages the tissues that carry nutrients and water within the tree, effectively starving the tree to death. Nearly all infected trees die and there is no known cure, though research is currently underway. Scientific testing late last week confirmed the presence of the disease from two young kauri in the Whangapoua Forest/Hukarahi Conservation Area.
“Kauri is an iconic species for New Zealand and one of the oldest and largest organisms on earth. These massive trees define their forest ecosystem and when they die, other species dependent on them are put at risk. A further problem of PTA is that it kills trees of all ages, including 1000-year-old kauri that are irreplaceable,” Dr Smith says.
“We still do not know enough about the kauri dieback disease and how it spreads. This detection of the disease is in a forest with no public tracks and little public use other than by some pig hunters. The disease has been in New Zealand since the 1950s and was formally identified in 2008. It is possible it has been in this forest unidentified for years,” Mr Guy says.
“We ask the public to do its part to avoid spread of the disease. This means adopting biosecurity measures of cleaning and disinfecting footwear, vehicle tyres and machinery when moving to or from any kauri forests. We also urge walkers to keep to formed tracks. We need to take a precautionary approach of assuming every kauri stand may be infected,” Mr Guy says.
“This detection of kauri dieback is also a setback for the Keep Kauri Standing programme led by MPI and involving DOC, iwi and the four northern regional councils. This programme, set up in 2009, was initially established through to June 2014. It was reviewed last year and we were planning a ramping-up of this work in the next financial year prior to this discovery. This work will now need to be brought forward with urgency,” Dr Smith concluded.
More information, including maps of the affected areas and frequently asked questions are available at beehive.govt.nz.