A collaborative plant health survey being undertaken on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea (PNG) will help support biosecurity surveillance in PNG as well as Australia’s preparedness for key pests and diseases, including Xylella fastidiosa.

Over two weeks, scientists from Papua New Guinea’s National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority (NAQIA) will be surveying, sampling and testing plants and insects in the East and West provinces of the island.

“They will be surveying the plant health and presence of plant pests, which will improve our knowledge of what potential disease or pest risks we need to be alert to,” said Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer Gabrielle Vivian-Smith.

“Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, we’ve had to develop a remote system of real-time support. The Department’s Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) scientists will provide real time support while NAQIA is in the field using platforms like WhatsApp to send messages and share images.”

Scientists will be on the lookout for species on the priority lists of both NAQIA and Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE). This includes coconut rhinoceros beetle, mango pulp weevil, Xylella and Siam weed.

“Any species that cannot be identified by NAQIA will be sent to Australia for diagnosis by NAQS,” said Dr Vivian-Smith.

“Not only will this survey help NAQIA better understand what plant and insect pests they’re dealing with, but it will enable us at DAWE to have early warning and intelligence of priority plant pests in Australia’s near neighbours.

“Given Australia’s proximity to PNG and the vital trade links between Papua and the Torres Strait, it’s important that we are armed with knowledge of what’s affecting our neighbours.”

in November, a second survey will be undertaken in the Vanimo region. This survey will focus on Asian citrus psyllid, a small sap-sucking insect which can carry disease and kill citrus trees.

This article first appeared in Daily Wine News.