Invasive beetle threatens Japan’s famed cherry blossoms

The appearance of cherry blossoms is hotly anticipated each year, with forecasters publishing updated maps weeks in advance. The blooms attract tourists but also locals who organize hanami or viewing parties in cherry-blossom hotspots. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Invasive beetle threatens Japan’s famed cherry blossoms

TOKYO: Across Japan’s capital, delicate pink and white cherry blossoms are emerging, but the famed blooms are facing a potentially mortal enemy, experts say: an invasive foreign beetle.
The alien invader is aromia bungii, otherwise known as the red-necked longhorn beetle, which is native to China, Taiwan, the Korean peninsula and northern Vietnam.
The beetles live inside cherry and plum trees, stripping them of their bark. In serious cases, an infestation can kill a tree, and experts are sounding the alarm.
“If we don’t take countermeasures, cherry trees could be damaged and we won’t be able to enjoy hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in a few years times,” Estuko Shoda-Kagaya, a researcher at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, said on Thursday.
The beetle was first spotted in 2012 in central Aichi prefecture but has now spread across the region near Tokyo, according to the environment ministry.
Experts say it may have entered in Japan with imported wood materials.
In January, Japan’s environment ministry officially designated the beetle an invasive alien species, meaning its import and transfer are banned.
“The damage will spread further if we don’t do anything,” said Makoto Miwa at the Center for Environmental Science in Saitama.
He said beetle larva should be killed with pesticide, and trees with serious infestations should be cut down to save others.
The center has issued a guidebook with details on how to identify and kill the beetle, which grows up to three to four centimeters (1.2-1.6 inches).
“It’s important to cooperate with local residents to get rid of the insect. It takes time and we need many people to check each tree,” Kagaya said.
“And I understand people feel it’s a loss to cut down cherry trees, but it’s important to take action before the damage spreads to other trees,” she added.
Tokyo’s cherry blossom season officially started last week as forecasters watching trees at Yasukuni Shrine announced that the city’s first blossoms had appeared.
The meteorological agency said this year’s first blossoms appeared nine days earlier than average due to warm weather.
The appearance of cherry blossoms is hotly anticipated each year, with forecasters publishing updated maps weeks in advance.
The blooms attract tourists but also locals who organize hanami or viewing parties in cherry-blossom hotspots.


Displaced Boracay workers head home, look for other jobs as Philippines’ tourist island shuts down

Updated 26 April 2018
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Displaced Boracay workers head home, look for other jobs as Philippines’ tourist island shuts down

BORACAY, Philippines: The cooks, hotel workers and other Filipinos who served tourists at the country’s most popular beach headed home and started looking for other work Thursday as police guarded the empty beach on the first day of a shutdown intended to let Boracay’s waters recover from overcrowding and development.
Police on the empty, white-sand beach turned away tourists trying to take a dip in the turquoise waters, and once-busy stores and restaurants stood closed.
“It’s painful for us to lose our jobs and it’s so sudden,” said canteen cook Marlon Laguna, 47, outside the closed beachfront restaurant. “Even though I don’t have my own family, I support my siblings ... We cannot do anything but to accept it.”
The island will be shut to visitors for up to six months while sewage containment and other work is done to clean up the waters President Rodrigo Duterte had called a cesspool.
The work was already underway Thursday. Police and residents were collecting seaweed in a cleanup drive on the beachfront, pipes were being laid, and construction had begun to widen the island’s main road. Some roadside structures were being demolished to make way.
Workers now out of jobs said they will look for other work to ride out the time the island is shut to tourists.
About 17,000 are employed in Boracay’s tourist establishments, and 10,000 to 12,000 others benefit from the bustling tourism business.
Displaced workers flocked to the Department of Social welfare operation center to get travel allowance for them to go home to their provinces.
“I am thankful that the government gave us travel allowance, even if we do not have a job anymore,” said construction worker Jomar Incierto, 27, who was among those receiving the cash assistance.
More than 2 million tourists visited Boracay last year, generating about 56 billion pesos ($1 billion) in revenue. But the influx, neglected infrastructure and growth of resort establishments and poor settlements have threatened to turn Boracay into a “dead island” in less than a decade, according to a government study. Settlers who’ve built illegal structures in forests and wetlands have added to the problems.
Less than half the establishments are connected to the island’s main sewage treatment plant, with many of the rest possibly maintaining crude septic tanks and others discharging their waste directly into the sea, said Frederick Alegre, assistant secretary at the Department of Tourism.
Parts of the island could re-open earlier than six months if sewage treatment systems could be built earlier and beach resorts comply with environmental regulations, he said.