Newly-found myrtle rust putting Waitakere Ranges at risk

First, it was kauri dieback, now another disease is putting Auckland's Waitakere Ranges under threat, myrtle rust has been found there for the first time. 

The race is on to stop it from spreading further and It's a part of the job Plant-Pathogen Advisor

Murray Fea doesn't love.

"The fact that we found out about this case here is a credit to New Zealand's biosecurity team of five million." 

A vigilant walker spotted the fungal disease on the branch of a native ramarama, a species classified as nationally threatened. 

"Susceptible plants are widespread in the park so it's pretty certain there'll be more myrtle rust in the area," says Fea.

The disease first arrived here in 2017 and can infect hundreds of species including manuka and pohutukawa.

This latest find is more concerning because kauri dieback is already widespread in the Waitakeres.

"It is significant and it makes it difficult in the context that this is a significant ecological area. It's really important that we protect the Waitakere Ranges," says Lisa Tolich Head of the Kauri Dieback Programme.

If you come across an infected myrtle plant or you think it might be infected, scientists want you to take a photo and report it, whatever you do, do not touch anything. 

The disease is wind-borne which means even the slightest breeze will make it spread. 

Robert Beresford studies the disease and helps officials respond if there's an outbreak, he says the outbreak isn't surprising.

"We would expect it to be in the Waitakeres because there's quite high levels of it throughout the urban part of Auckland."

"We've had a very warm winter and myrtle rust has been able to keep ticking over during the winter period and that gives it a kind of head start in spring and summer."

The infected branch has been removed but the council needs more eyes in the bush to see if it's spread further.