Bermuda’s isolation creates a unique environment wherein species are adapted to life on a windswept island; and as a result of this, a high number of endemic species occur. In addition, Bermuda’s small size mans that infiltration by disease would be fatal. Once the government realized Bermuda’s risk factor – due to our small size and high concentrations of imported goods – for infiltration, they implemented exhaustive customs measures to prevent alien species/diseases from entering on imported goods.
The Plant Protection Lab, located on the outskirts of Botanical Gardens, is largely responsible for checking all plants that enter Bermuda. A plant pathologist regulates imported plants for pathogens like bacteria and fungi, and the etymologist assesses plants for diseases caused by insects or mites. This Lab is extremely important to ensuring that Bermuda’s ecology is preserved, and another incident like the Cedar Scale outbreak does not occur again. Most plants must be kept for a quarantine period where they are checked for diseases and insects. Once, the Lab found a colony of Brown Widow spiders in a shipment of plants, and on some imported christmas trees a type of scale insect can be found. If the plants are diseased, they must be destroyed, and in the case of christmas tress – fumigated, which causes the tree’s needles to fall off.
Human disease is also a concern with imported produce, or indeed passengers on airplanes and their luggage. With the recent outbreak of ebola in Liberia and other West-African countries, it was established that the Bermuda airport did not have appropriate quarantine equipment for sick passengers, and thus, if a sick passenger stop was needed, no-one would be allowed off of the plane.
There are some viruses, however, which are much more difficult to control – one such virus being the Chikungunya virus carried by mosquitoes the world over. Since these small insects feed on the blood of mammals, direct transfer of the virus between species is easily achieved. The Chikungunya virus causes a sudden and agressive fever, and joint pain which may persist for weeks or become chronic. Its mortality rate is about 1/1000. Prevention is relied on to combat the disease as there is no specific treatment besides treating symptoms.
Recently, Bermuda has sustained four imported cases of the virus from the Caribbean. The Royal Gazette reported that in Jamaica, some schools had closed completely due to the high number of cases that left a large portion of the population bedridden.
In addition, The Royal Gazette reports that environmental reservoirs for the pathogen salmonella mississippi were identified as feral chickens and pigeons in Bermuda. These introduced, invasive species are some of the most harmful to our environment – especially pigeons who monopolize the nesting sites of longtails.
While the department for Environmental Health will do its best to reduce mosquito populations on island, residents can now help with the problem of pest birds which are also sources of pathogens. This is due to the passing of the Protection of Birds Amendment Act which will allow anyone authorized by the Environment Minister to destroy pest birds. Pest birds also include the common crow, introduced starling and kiskadee, and house sparrow. On a more positive note, the act allows for the public to apply for a license to rehabilitate protected birds such as the cahow, longtail, white-eyed vireo and green heron. This act will allow anyone to apply for a license to eradicate pest birds and will help greatly in lessening the negative influence of such birds on the environment, and on public health.