Coconut palm under threat in Antigua

Coconut palm under threat in Antigua

White sand beaches fringed by lofty palm trees – it is the image of a tropical paradise that has lured holidaymakers to the Caribbean for decades.

But in tourism-dependent Antigua, a deadly disease has wiped out almost half of the island’s majestic coconut palms – leaving unsightly headless trunks littering the landscape.

Lethal yellowing, the same condition that devastated the iconic trees in Florida and Jamaica, also strikes at the heart of this 280sq km (108sq mile) island’s culture and economy.

Here, coconut products are used in everything from food and drink to beauty treatments and traditional medicine.

Around 45% of Antigua’s thousands of coconut palms have been lost to date, estimates Barbara Japal, president of the island’s Horticultural Society.

‘Palm is the charm’

Street vendor Julian Rose is one of those affected.

He has been selling coconut water for $3.70 (£2.40) a bottle for four years, but says the last 12 months have seen supplies nosedive by half – as has his income.

“I’ve kept my prices the same – people won’t pay more,” he says.

The official advice states that palms showing signs of the contagious disease, characterised by premature shedding of fruit and yellowing fronds that eventually drop off, should immediately be cut down and burned to prevent the disease spreading.

But the cash-strapped government’s lack of resources has enabled it to run rampant, with the trees dying in droves since lethal yellowing was first identified in 2012.


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