Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Bye, My Gaogao

The Gaogao will die out on Saipan. Gaogao (Erythrina variegata var. orientalis), also known as the Cat's Claw or Coral Tree, is being attacked by the Erythrina gall wasp (Quadrastichus erythrinae) or EGW .

INFECTION AND INFESTATIONThe tiny wasps (females are 1.5mm; males are 1.0mm) lay their eggs in the young leaves and stem tissue of the Gaogao. The eggs then develop into larvae that feed upon the Gaogao as they mature.
The leaves develop damaging galls (abnormal tumors and outgrowths) and fall off. Petioles and shoots swell up and curl growing in an ineffectual manner. These pictures are of the young Gaogao trees planted across the Hyatt Hotel, Garapan on Coral Tree Road. I took these picture on October 2007. Many of the trees there are dying two years later. There is a loss of growth and vigor for the trees, and heavy infestations can cause attacks from other pests and diseases more easily. Ultimately, the trees will die. I started noticing familiar and well established Gaogao trees on my outings and hikes. Check out this leafless and lifeless giant. I found this dead tree at the Laderan Tanke Trail this year. March was supposed to be the height of this tree's blooming season. Notice the rotting bark on the trunk.The Eythrina gall wasp was first described (Kim et al. 2004) from specimens infecting trees in Singapore, Mauritius, and Reunion. The next two years saw its spread to China, India, Taiwan, Philippines, Florida, American Samoa, Hawai’i and Guam. EGW started showing up on Saipan in 2007. It is uncertain if the wasps originated from Africa according to the discoverers. Our agriculturists believe that Saipan’s pests came from Tinian and Rota. Here is a picture of the wasp's life cycle from Fleming Arboretum:

Former Glory
The Gaogao is one of my favorite native trees in the CNMI. It is also for the native fauna (birds, Marianas Fruit Bat, insects, etc.). It is a tree that can match the beauty and flamboyance of the Flame Tree as I try to convince people to plant more natives. Traditional medicine also utilizes the Gaogao.

A hike through the Laderan Tanke' Trail this past March yielded some evidence in the leaf litter that some Gaogao trees survived to flower another season.

Crafters here also bead together the purplish seeds for necklaces and Bojogo dolls that are marketed to the tourists. Here, the seeds represent the doll's hands and feet.

Erythrina trees have a variety of functions in other locations as well. The flowering of the red flowers (erythros is Latin for red) is highly associated with farming and fishing activities in Taiwan. The flowering is a working calendar by tribal peoples as sign of the arrival of spring. It is a sign for the coastal tribes to start catching flying fish, and for the Puyama tribe to plant sweet potatoes. In American Samoa, the blooming trees signal the return of whales in their waters.

The following pictures are from July 2006 at the American Memorial Park, Garapan.
These are from February 2008 in San Roque at the Park Hotel Parking lot. It was one of the better sites to watch the birds that came out to celebrate the blooming of the Gaogao.

Can you see the Egigi or Cardinal honeyeater (Myzomela cardinalis saffordi) in the picture below? This endemic subspecies of the honeyeaters found in Micronesia is a fervent nectar eater and loves the Gaogao.
There's the Egigi! The Nosa or Bridled white-eye (Zosterops conspicillatus) is usually seen as a hungry insectivore foraging on leaves and twigs. It does not shy away from the delicious nectar brought on by the Gaogao blooms though. Can you see the tiny fella in the picture below? I must have counted more than 20 birds in these trees. I am sorry for not having a camera with a nice zoom feature.
This tree is probably more than 100 ft (30.48m) tall and found in Chalan Kanoa during the 2009 bloom also in February.
These are what the seeds look like as well as the seed pod and flower bracts. These are from the trees of the CNMI Retirement Building, Capitol Hill from February of last year.

In Hawai’i, the wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) another species of Gaogao is a revered native and indigenous tree. It is used as an ornamental as well as for functional landscaping (windbreaks, hedges, erosion control). The soft mature wood has been used for booms and floats for single hull canoes and long surfboards. The seeds are collected and beaded for leis that can fetch up to $500 each. Since the EGW infestation, Hawai’i has tried physical (cutting down or remove and replace), chemical and biological controls to save the wiliwili. . Some people feel that the best way to preserve the wiliwili is to collect and bank as many seeds as they can before they are all gone.

The following images of the wiliwili is from Forest and Kim Starr. The Maui based biologists work for the Univesity of Hawai'i and have an environmental consulting firm for conservation involved in protecting the wiliwili.
The beautiful wiliwili bloom.APPARENT DAMAGE
It is also unfortunate that some people in agriculture and forestry limited the planting of the Gaogao in recent years. They believed that more Gaogao trees would help host and propagate more fruit piercing moths that could eventually infect fruit crops. There is a delicate balance to nature especially in our small islands that is why we should be careful as to what is introduced in our land and waters.

We will eventually see all of the Gaogao trees die in Saipan. An article in the Marianas Variety reports that our entomologists and agriculturists will let them all die thinking that their extinction will lead to the starvation and the eventual elimination of the EGW and fruit piercing moths. In a few years, the Gaogao can be reintroduced free of pests.

This well established tree in Middle Road, San Jose across the Taste of India Restaurant withered and died this year.
I usually look forward to the Gaogao blooms in March. I enjoy watching the full crown of the trees in red and the creatures that come out for the food providing flowers. I also try to show the blooms to as many people as I can so that they are aware of the importance of CNMI’s native trees. Many of the trees that I visit for the flowers are now dead. I will miss the Gaogao sorely.
My heart breaks for you
I will miss seeing you bloom
Good bye, my Gaogao

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tropical Storm 23W

Seems like all I've been blogging about is the weather. Well, we have another storm in the area: Tropical Storm 23W! Pray that the CNMI is spared once again.

It has been so busy lately and there has been no time to blog. I will have to catch up with the writing. Stay dry and take care, all.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Friday, October 16, 2009

Smoking Ban & Tourism

There is a Letter to the Editor in the Marianas Variety saying that the smoking ban on Saipan is bad for small businesses that depend on tourism since a large percent of tourists smoke. According to the author, a smoking ban will deter many tourists from business establishments where they can't smoke resulting in them not wanting to come back and them telling their friends not to visit.

I've heard this argument before and it holds no water. Where is the evidence for this. None were presented so I am going to say that it is an assumption. Is there evidence of smoking bans NOT harming the tourism industry though ? Here's one from the American Cancer Society website siting a study published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA 1999:281:1911-8). There are more.

The author of the letter also calls for voters to find out which lawmakers agreed to pass the Smoke Free Air Act (CNMI Public Law 16-46) and not vote for "lawmakers that will work for the people not against them". I say, consider reelecting them. Shake their hands when you see them. Thank them for being champions of public health in the CNMI. Thank [Rep.] Justo Quitugua, the author of the bill, [Rep.] Ralph Torres, chairman for the Health, Education and Welfare Committee, and Speaker Arnold Palacios and Vice Speaker Joseph Guerrero for caring about our health.

Thank you for the clean air, less chronic diseases, less children with respiratory problems, and better understanding of what does or does not affect tourism.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Earthquakes and Tsunami Watches

From the CNMI Emergency Management Office:
BULLETIN NO. 001, October 8, 2009, 8:30 A.M.

The Emergency Management Office, Office of the Governor, would like to inform the general public that at 8:05 a.m. this morning, Thursday, October 08, 2009, there was an earthquake with preliminary magnitude of 8.0 on Richter scale located at latitude 13.0 degrees South 166.3 degrees East, Vanuatu Island region. This is about 2,400 miles South Southeast of Saipan.

Estimated time of arrival for the Tsunami Wave is 0323 UTC or 1:23 pm, CHST.

This is the 2nd tsunami watch we received in 2 weeks due to the American Samoa earthquake on September 30, 2009. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Vanuatu about 2 hours ago but there are no reports yet of any possible damage. Vanuatu is much closer to Saipan vs. American Samoa so we are all watching this one much closer! We hope that the people of Vanuatu are all right and that the tremors do not cause damaging waves elsewhere.
Okay, it looks like people are Twittering that they are okay in Vanuatu.
Take care and ti napu (literally, no waves)!
The Beachcomber

Monday, October 5, 2009

Super Typhoon Melor (20W)- Spared!

That's a satellite infrared photo of Super Typhoon Melor (20W) moving
west of the Marianas (from the National Weather Service Forecast Office)

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers as we here on Saipan were spared most of the damage from Super Typhoon Melor (20W)! It could have been a disaster but the storm drifted far enough from us to cause only a little flooding, a few downed trees, power outages and delays in our everyday routines. We were very lucky and blessed! Please be careful if you are going to check out the waves since our waters remain trecherous. Check out this photo from the Marianas Variety taken by our friend Chris Nelson:Can you see the Banzai Cliff memorials in the picture? What's crazier is that the weather was so clear there 2 days before when I took a friend around sight seeing! Anyway, I am glad that we are all safe and got to spend some stormy moments with some of my favorite people.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Super Typhoon Melor (20W)

Pray for us as we brace for Super Typhoon Melor (20W). It is fixing to be a bad one so I hope all of us in the CNMI and Guam are preparing their family and property properly. Take care and God bless.
Ti napu.
The Beachcomber