The people of Princes Town have been living in a horror movie for the past two weeks.
The Moruga locusts (Coscineuta virens) have swarmed by the millions, munching through fruit trees and ornamental plants, and threatening to destroy acres of crops in surrounding farmlands.
Cars driving through the area are often covered by the insects, and people walking about the town are constantly swatting away the bugs flying about by the thousands.
They are getting into homes, cars and businesses, and are resistant to insect repellents.
When the sky darkened over parts of Manahambre, Lothians and St Croix last Wednesday morning, residents thought it was a change in weather, a sign of incoming rain or storm.
But as the dark cloud descended, thousands of locusts landed on their fruit trees, crops and plants devouring all in sight.
“I lived here for about 40 years or so and this is the first time I have seen anything like this. The sky got dark, and it sounded like rain and thunder to us how loud it was. Then they came down on everything, all our trees in the back, the avocados, the chataigne and they swarmed. If you go outside right now, they will even cover you,” one resident of Marcano Street in Princes Town told the Express yesterday.
According to residents, nearby vegetation had been completely cleared by these insects within 24 hours of their arrival. Some have resorted to staying inside to avoid the abundance of locusts. Even passing vehicles, they say, are swarmed when passing through the area.
“My husband and I were going to Rio Claro to pick up some things. When driving through the roads we had to stop and roll up the windows because they were there in the thousands, bombarding cars and some dead on the street. It is like re-enacting the Egyptian plagues,” another resident told the Express last week Monday.
It was a sight familiar to Moruga residents who over the years have grown used to locust infestations that they say resemble biblical proportions. In the past weeks, however, these locusts have flown west across the country, swarming parts of Rio Claro, Borde Narve, Central Princes Town and St Julien.
Some now fear that this could mean potentially devastating effects on Princes Town’s farming community.
“From what I understand is a frequent occurrence in other areas and when they ran out of crops to eat, they moved here. I felt sorry for all the trees lost and cleared and I think it will be a problem for those who plant for a living,” said one resident.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Agriculture conducted several exercises within the Moruga area in an attempt to combat the emergence of new swarms. Surveillance on locust eggs, emergent locusts and the mapping of flight paths of adult locusts were conducted.
“In excess of one hundred and forty-four hectares have been surveyed for 2021 to date. This figure is cumulative and includes repeated surveillance activities.”
“Spraying activities are conducted using both mist blowers as well the cannon sprayer using either Propoxur or Ethrine Plus (active ingredients). Only forested areas or areas close to farmers’ holdings are sprayed,” the Ministry said in March.
Responding to the concerns of Moruga farmers in October, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat said that locusts spraying can be conducted by the Ministry when the insects are in the lower levels.
“While the ministry provides control measures when locusts are at the lower levels, it is difficult to spray when they are high up, especially since many of these areas are a mix of farming and residential,” he said.
Contacted yesterday for a response on the locusts’ emerging presence in Princes Town, Rambharat added that the Agricultural County Office was aware of the issue and providing assistance where possible.
He said that this was a pattern followed by locusts at this time of year. He said there is no spraying regime that can destroy locusts in their adult stage.
“Annually around this time, this is the pattern of the locusts. The locusts are at the adult stage now and are heading off to the forest for nesting. Along their way they will gorge on the mature leaves on the large/tall trees. For that reason, you will see them swarming high up, resting on tall trees and disappearing. There is no spraying regime that can destroy them at this stage. After the nesting the adults die. The newborn locusts will come out in December January, and this is when the Ministry sprays. Once they get wings, spraying becomes difficult,” said Rambharat.
Problem solved: WASA intervenes
A broken water line at Clarke Road in Penal, that has for the past two months been a source of distress for residents, was repaired last week after the Express’ intervention.
According to one resident who contacted the Express last week, a years-long leak was repaired two months ago by the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) resulting in another ruptured line in the area.
A constant flow from the ruptured line, he said, had not only wasted gallons of water but begun to erode parts of the surrounding roadway and a bordering wall. But despite attempts to relay the issue to the WASA, he said, the issue remained unresolved.
“We reported it to WASA and after years they did come two months ago and do some repairs. When they did the repairs, they ruptured another line that supplies a village at a nearby hill. All the water now is again flowing into my property causing the wall to damage and the amount of water that is wasting is despicable,” he said in a telephone interview with the Express last week.
“We keep trying to call and make a report and even online via the WhatsApp number, but nothing has been done. It appears that the amount of water that is wasting, the water is undermining the wall causing it to crack. There is a sinkhole in front of the property,” he said.
In addition to this, he noted a secondary leak along the main roadway that has soaked a large section of the roadway.
“I live one house away from the main junction and there is also a leak there where vehicles have to manoeuvre as if there is only one lane. That can cause accidents. The first leak was about three years ago, and it was repaired two months ago,” he said.
The Express contacted the WASA for a response last week. The WASA indicated that it then contacted the affected resident and that repairs to the leak were expected to be completed by Wednesday. By Thursday, the resident confirmed that the area’s water supply had been returned and leaks repaired.
“No leaks were observed for now, let’s hope it remains this way. Thank you for your assistance it is greatly appreciated,” he said.