The Agriculture Ministry says it is actively taking steps to control and where possible, eradicate swarms of Moruga Locusts that have formed over parts of Rio Claro since Monday, threatening vegetation and crops and causing a nuisance to residents.
"Moruga Locusts (Coscineuta virens) are indigenous to Trinidad but this latest surge in their numbers over Rio Claro is potentially the result of recent disturbances to forest habitats - possibly illegal land clearing, which may have triggered migration nearer to Rio Claro’s residential communities for the first time," the ministry stated.
Environmental factors could have also contributed to this infestation. The ministry cited a warning from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that large swarms of locusts can form as a result of climate change. This includes changes in temperature as well as torrential rain, both of which provide the ideal environment for breeding.
The difficult and often dangerous terrain in which the insects breed hampers monitoring and eradication efforts but the ministry says it has been actively monitoring locust activity for the last six months, conducting spraying exercises to eradicate the pests at "hopper" stage and sending locust control officers into the Moruga forests and other parts of south-east and south-west Trinidad to locate and destroy egg beds.
Agriculture Minister, Clarence Rambharat, "who has been on the ground in Rio Claro for weeks," activated the ministry’s locust control team at the Nariva/Mayaro County Office last weekend following reports that hordes of locusts had been spotted near Mora Valley.
"The team has been strengthened with personnel and equipment from across the country," the ministry yesterday announced.
Locust Control Officer, Shastri Doon, was also immediately appointed to lead a team of ministry fumigators equipped with backpack sprayers on an exercise that is expected to continue through this weekend.
"Propoxur, the main insecticide being used in the locust spraying exercise, degrades rapidly in the environment but it is harmful to insects such as bees. To limit the impact of these toxic chemicals on the wider environment," the ministry says it has "opted, at this time, for ground spraying rather than aerial spraying to control the swarms over Rio Claro."
Farmers and residents of Rio Claro, Ecclesville and surrounding areas are advised that getting the locusts under control may take longer as a result of this targeted and controlled use of insecticides.
"For months, County Officer, Florencia Beckles, has been coordinating the locust control response in the south-east with other ministry technocrats who believe Moruga Locust swarms may be evolving in their migration patterns. For one thing, where the locusts once showed heightened activity at roughly seven-year intervals, since 2012, swarms have attacked or threatened leafy vegetation almost annually. This has formed part of a broader discussion with farmers and residents at a series of public awareness seminars hosted by the ministry throughout the country over the past two years."
Minister Rambharat said while the locusts "are nesting deeper into the forests, making it more difficult to eradicate them," the ministry is intensifying its efforts this nesting season; September to November, "to control the population and target the egg beds."
The ministry is assuring the wider public that although Moruga Locusts can cause significant destruction to farmland, apart from being a nuisance, they pose no direct threat to human health.