Most of Lord Howe Island, off the New South Wales coast, closed due to myrtle rust, a highly infectious fungus
An Australian holiday destination popularized by Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth has suddenly closed to tourists due to a “highly infectious” ecological threat.
Lord Howe Island, located in the Tasman Sea 600 km east of Port Macquarie, NSW, is off-limits to “non-essential visitors” due to myrtle rust, an invasive disease-causing fungus.
The island’s board issued a statement on Wednesday informing that the Permanent Park Reserve (PPP), which covers about 70 percent of the island, was temporarily closed.
Tourists with or without licensed guides, researchers, residents, and house guests are not allowed to enter the reserve as boat routes, bush trails, and recognized access points are closed.
It comes after myrtle rust was discovered on the island on February 3, but has now spread to other areas despite efforts to eradicate the fungus.
The Permanent Park Reserve on Lord Howe Island, located in the Tasman Sea 600 km east of Port Macquarie, NSW, (pictured) is closed due to myrtle rust, an invasive disease-causing fungus.
Myrtle rust (pictured), a highly infectious disease-causing fungus, affects plant foliage by impeding the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, resulting in plant decline or death.
“Efforts to date have focused on minimizing the spore load and its spread through curative and preventative spraying,” the board said.
‘The myrtle rust spore is highly transferable and can be spread on clothing, skin, hair, footwear and equipment.
‘Due to increased risk, the PPP lockdown is being implemented to prevent spread from human activity. We recognize that this is not the only way spores can be spread, but it is one way we can control.
“The park closure will also allow for more intensive planning, assessment and structured surveys.”
Myrtle rust is a highly infectious plant disease affecting endemic Myrtaceous species, which are dominant in many of the island’s plant communities.
The fungus could affect the island’s critically endangered ecological community, made up of the Mountain Rose Tree, Scaly Bark Tree, and Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest.
“Rust has the potential to change the appearance of our mountains and forests,” the board said.
“(Rust) can alter food webs and ecology, and potentially affect World Heritage values, including the visitor experience and the economics associated with those values.”
The popular destination is a favorite of Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth (pictured with his wife Elsa Pataky on Lord Howe Island)
Hemsworth vacationed on the island with family and friends in 2020 (pictured)
The Thor: Love & Thunder actor called the vacation destination a “paradise” and praised the island’s sustainability.
The Lord Howe Island Board has called myrtle rust a “formidable threat” and said the reserve will be monitored weekly, but did not say when the island will reopen.
“The closure will be in place until there is confidence that the necessary hygiene practices can be implemented consistently and effectively and that resources are in place to enforce this and support a controlled level of visitation,” it said.
The World Heritage-listed site has been hailed as an “unspoiled paradise” with its white-sand beaches, formidable cloud forests, crystal-clear waters, and coral reefs teeming with life.
Travel giant Lonely Planet praises Lord Howe Island as a “shining example of sustainably managed tourism” as it only allows 400 visitors at a time.
A-list celebrities, including actor Chris Hemsworth, have praised the island’s sustainability.
The Thor: Love & Thunder star shared photos on Instagram of vacationing with family and friends on the island in 2020, calling the destination a “paradise.”
“Lord Howe Island is one of the most sustainable destinations in the world, with only a few hundred visitors allowed at any one time,” Hemsworth wrote.
“This paradise is home to one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, but like many small communities, it is dependent on tourism.”
Lord Howe is a legendary fishing destination, with more than 500 species of fish and 90 forms of coral inhabiting the water around the island (pictured)
The island’s remote location makes it a safe haven for a variety of indigenous animals, including 14 species of seabirds (Sooty Tern on North Beach, Lord Howe Island pictured)
Despite being only 11 kilometers long and two kilometers wide, the island is home to some of the best walking and cycling trails in the world, and boasts world-class snorkeling and diving sites at the nearby Admiralty Islands.
Lord Howe is also a legendary fishing destination thanks to a ban on commercial fishing, with over 500 species of fish and 90 forms of coral inhabiting the water around the island.
Guests are encouraged to participate in green initiatives and cleanup projects, and can even hand-feed the fish at Ned’s Beach for an up-close encounter with local wildlife.
Once an active volcano, the island’s remote location makes it a safe haven for a variety of native animals, including 14 species of seabirds.
WHAT IS MYRTLE OXIDE?
Myrtle Rust is a highly infectious fungus that causes disease.
It affects plants belonging to the Myrtaceae family.
The fungus affects plant foliage, particularly flower buds, and new growth by impeding the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, resulting in plant decline or death.
It can also cause dieback or death of seedlings.
The disease is highly infectious, producing thousands of spores that remain viable for up to three months and are easily spread by wind, splashing rain, human activity, and animals.
It may not be seen for a few weeks after infection.
It is not known how myrtle rust entered Australia.