In the Southwestern part of Palau, a new battle is taking place as tiny creatures attempt to establish a colony. Such a battle involves no guns or warships and the main players are men and the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles (CRBs). 

While most of the people are out frolicking in the summer to play sports and go off island for a holiday, a group of individuals in the tiny island of Sonsorol were united in one purpose and that is to save the most important crop on their island – the coconut.

Coconut trees are essential in the outlying islands of Palau such as Sonsorol. The islanders are highly dependent on the crop as it is one of the main sources of food and sometimes, an alternative to drinking water. It is also out of this crop that they make their special native juice called the tuba. Using the native juice, the inhabitants of the island can create a syrup by cooking it. It is, so to speak, more than just a crop but also an important part of culture.

“Our people are really dependent on coconut so it is very important that we protect our coconut trees,” Delegate Yutaka Gibbons, Jr. of the Sonsorol State told Island Times.

When the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles (CRB), also known as Oryctes Rhinoceros, start infesting their island, a group of concerned individuals decided it is time to take matters into their hands. The island of Fanna, a municipality of Sonsorol State, had already been completely taken over by CRBs, destroying every single coconut tree found on its island.

Thafaas Sonsorol State Men’s Association President Kaipo Recheungel said that the people from Sonsorol expressed concern that Sonsorol island will be likened to Fanna, hence they come up with the project dubbed as Thafaas CRB Project to counter the problem of CRB infestation.

Beginning June until early August this year, men including young men from the Thafaas Sonsorol State Men’s Association had gathered together to do what they could to control CRBs and stop them from breeding, if not completely eradicate.

The project, according to Recheungel, is backed by a funding worth $50,000 from the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and also assisted by the Palau Community College (PCC)in the scientific studies of the species. In the planning phase alone, $5,000 had already been expended and the rest were utilized in the actual implementation of the program over the course of the summer.

Though small, CRBs can be vicious as they feed on coconut leaves or tops, damaging growing tissue and therefore stunting growth, or worse, kill the trees. Its larvae live inside a rotting material such as a decaying coconut tree trunk, among others.

In an article published online which was authored by Mike Dornberg of the Division of Plant Industry of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, it was stated that CRBs were found in Palau in 1942 and caused a 50% overall tree mortality.

During implementation of the CRB project in Sonsorol, around 100 CRBs including its larvae were found by their men in a day, Thafaas Sonsorol State Men’s Association President Recheungel shared. Originally, CRBs only attacked and bred in coconut trees but now they are starting to lay eggs in other rotten trees, Rechungel said. Throughout the project implementation, the men were able to clear up an area of around 800 square meters. However, the group admitted that the problem is still far from over especially that another invasive species like the Fire Ants is starting to creep into the picture.

Rechungel said that to make their project sustainable, continued monitoring of the infested sites are being undertaken. They also come up with a biosecurity plan that include safety regulations and inspections of all trips from and to Sonsorol to prevent the prevalence of CRBs and other invasive species that are threats to agricultural produce.

“We are going to work and monitor the project and coordinate with the state leaders in making sure that there is continuity of the project,” Delegate Gibbons said.

Indeed, CRBs are tiny but can be really nasty if not being taken care of. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)