U.S. Department of Agriculture Molokai inspector Chevy Levasa said it was just a regular day at work for her, but a finding a fungi last year landed her some recognition. She now holds the first report in the U.S. of a strain of fungi called frog-eye spot, or P. morindae, on a noni leaf on Molokai.
“It’s such a regular part of my job, I don’t think much of it,” Levasa said.
A request went out from the USDA office on Oahu for inspectors on every island to collect noni leaf samples, and Levasa — along with Molokai Invasive Species Committee leader Lori Buchanan and her crew — responded. They searched the island for infected noni leaves. Levasa said because they had been clued in to what they were looking for, “I had an idea that’s what it was [when I found it].”
Both Buchanan and Levasa sent leaves in to be tested for the fungi, which came back positive. It turns out that frog-eye spot is widespread throughout the islands and because of its already-extensive reach, it won’t be targeted for control efforts, said Levasa. But because she was the first to send in her positive sample of the P. moringae strain of the disease in Maui County, she was recognized on a list of “significant interceptions” and first reports of the fungi in the entire country.
“It’s everywhere, all the islands have it,” said Levasa. “It’s a disease that shows up on [noni] leaves, it doesn’t infect the fruit.”
Frog-eye spot appears on noni leaves as round, light-colored marks with a dark, circular interior.
Levasa’s job as a USDA inspector requires her to report a certain number of interceptions — or reports of bugs, diseases, etc. — per year. She works primarily at the Ho`olehua Airport, inspecting luggage bound for the mainland. She searches bags for possible invasive species, and sends any suspicious finds to the USDA Plant Inspection Station of Oahu, where they will determine if it’s something already common to Hawaii or not.
She said she normally reports 12 to 15 interceptions per year.
Levasa said she works closely with the Molokai Invasive Species team to identify and control species that threaten Molokai’s ecosystem. Two of those species are the Coconut Rhinoceros Beatle and the Red Palm Weevil — and to help detect any that may have made their way to Molokai, Levasa has installed traps for these insects in various locations around the island.
Residents may notice white or orange buckets hung at the airport, the Kaunakakai harbor and Coconut Grove. These buckets, placed by Levasa, contain pheromone bait to attract each of these species. She selected these locations as key points of entry or habitation for the invasive pests. If any are present on the island, the buckets will hopefully attract them and action can be taken to prevent further spread.
The adult Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle can decimate coconut tree populations by boring into the center of the crown and injuring the young, growing tissues and feeding on the sap. The Red Palm Weevil larvae cause similar devastating damage to coconut palms, excavating into crowns and trunks, weakening and killing the trees.
“Fortunately last year, we didn’t have any,” said Levasa. “Surveying and trapping is a way for me to catch it before it’s too big of a problem.”
She installs the buckets on Molokai once a year and leaves them for about six months at a time.
“We [USDA and MoMISC] have done an excellent job because Molokai is the cleanest island [in terms of invasive species],” said Levasa.
She encourages residents and visitors to contact her if they find anything suspicious — whether it be a bug or disease — and she can investigate it. Contact Levasa at 808-357-6378.