The following is an update from MPI and Apiculture New Zealand on the myrtle rust situation in New Zealand, including specific information for local beekeepers in affected areas.

Myrtle rust, a fungus which can have serious consequences on various species of plants in the myrtle family including New Zealand native plants like pōhutukawa and mānuka, was found in Kerikeri on 3 May and Waitara on 17 May.

As of 1pm, Wednesday 17 May, a nursery in Waitara, Taranaki was revealed to have been infected by myrtle rust.  As with the nursery in Kerikeri, movement controls have been placed on the Taranaki property. Currently, there are no movements of plants or other risk materials off the site and preparations are underway to treat the location with fungicide and begin inspecting the area out to 500m from the infection site.

The two other confirmed sites are the initial nursery in Kerikeri where the myrtle rust incursion was first detected and a neighbouring residential garden. Ground teams in Kerikeri had completed inspections of the areas extending 500 metres out from the two confirmed positive sites. Surveillance activities continue in Northland with MPI and a range of partners including DOC, Northland Regional Council, iwi and growers checking high risk sites for any sign of myrtle rust.

MPI, along with other agencies, is committed to doing the best possible job to prevent the spread of myrtle rust. MPI has to be realistic, though, that this is a disease that spreads by microscopic spores that can be carried by the wind and on people, vehicles and equipment.

MPI has advised that at this time they do not know how myrtle rust will behave in New Zealand conditions and what any impact would be on our native plant species like mānuka. While bees can transfer the myrtle rust spores from plant to plant our best information tells us that they do not transfer the spores into the hive. Tests in Australia where myrtle rust is widespread did not find myrtle rust spores in beehives.

Additionally, Apiculture New Zealand understands that when myrtle rust arrived in Australia in 2010 there were concerns about the impact it might have on honey production, however, Australian beekeepers are still producing jelly bush honey (a leptospermum species) in affected areas.

Information for beekeepers in the affected areas (Kerikeri & Waitara)

MPI is appealing to local beekeepers in the affected areas, to not move their beehives if possible, while they gather further information. This has been made easier as hives have been wintered down for the season and very little movement is expected anyway.

MPI has advised, for those beekeepers who may be concerned about any possible impacts of this incursion, that at this time, there is no need for any drastic action such as destruction of any beehives.

Apiculture New Zealand has provided MPI with local beekeeper and industry liaison people on the ground in Whangarei & Taranaki to help direct any local information and updates on the situation.

In addition, Apiculture New Zealand will continue to provide regular updates to its members and is working with MPI to develop a set of management guidelines on myrtle rust for beekeepers.

If you believe you have seen signs of myrtle rust:

  • Do not touch it or the plant
  • Take a photo of the rust and the plant
  • Call MPI’s Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66.

For more information on myrtle rust go to MPI’s website