By Jan Norris
The Mediterranean fruit fly invasion is likely on its last wings, according to Mark Fagan, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — the agency responsible for containing the pest.
“We did a full life-cycle test and are in the middle of the second one, and are projecting Sept. 1 as the day that we hope to get permission to declare eradication,” Fagan said.
Since June 2, when the first fruit flies were found in one of the hundreds of traps hung in mango, loquat and sour orange trees in the Delray Beach area, the agency has put “all hands on deck” to fight the outbreak of ceratitis capitata — medfly. If left to
multiply, the fly invasion could cost the state billions in crop losses.
The last outbreak was more than a decade ago and efforts have been steady to prevent another, with more than 60,000 traps set around the state.
“We credit the diligence of the state workers who found the first flies so we were able to put all efforts into eradication.”
It’s believed that fruits brought in from the Caribbean, perhaps by a boater or private plane, could have been the source of the fly, but Fagan said it’s difficult to pinpoint. “We’ve had agents going door to door to ascertain the source, but we’ve been unable to turn up anything yet.”
The fly’s threat is not to human health, but to the economy that depends on fruits and vegetables. A number of tropical fruits including citrus, winter vegetables and others — 250-plus plants — could be lost to the fly that lays its eggs, hatches, and rots the fruit as it thrives and reproduces in astronomical numbers within only one life-cycle, a seven-day period.
“The summer heat works in our favor — the hotter it is, the shorter the life span,” Fagan said.
The state took immediate action to prevent the outbreak, releasing millions of sterile flies by air and on the ground in the target areas. A quarantine was issued for a 90-mile radius centering in eastern Delray Beach.
No fruits can be moved out of the area or sold unless consumed on the seller’s property, or as processed (cut and frozen) while the quarantine is in place.
Two commercial groves in the area were affected: Truly Tropical in Delray Beach, and Zill Mangoes in Boynton Beach. No trees were destroyed at either property, Fagan said.
It may be a few weeks more, Fagan said, before mango sales can get back to normal. “Even if we receive declaration of the eradication, the state may want us to go through one more life cycle just to be safe.”
Landscapers also were put on alert not to remove any fruits from yards or take them from the quarantined area. “They signed compliance agreements, where we explained
one-on-one — here’s what you can do and what you must do.”
Homeowners are still asked to cooperate — allowing traps to be hung in their trees, and they’re asked to dispose of mangoes in their trash, by double-bagging them and
putting them in the regular trash — not the landscaping refuse.
“We need to minimize the risk of movement of the flies,” Fagan said. “It’s an abundance of caution and we appreciate the cooperation of the public in helping us.”
To keep up with the current regulations or for more information about the medfly quarantine, call the state’s helpline at (888) 397-1517.