‘Ohi‘a trees affected by the disease on the Big Island. Frame grab from DLNR video

‘Ohi‘a trees affected by the disease on the Big Island. Frame grab from DLNR video

Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death, a mysterious disease, has already killed hundreds of thousands of Hawaii’s iconic and native ‘ohi‘a, the backbone of Hawaii’s native forests and watersheds, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. While the deaths are contained within the Big Island, scientist are warning the disease could spread to other islands, causing substantial harm to the state’s native forest ecosystem.

Last August, For Kaua‘i Magazine published an article by Ruby Pap, warning the rapid-spreading disease had affected more than 6,000 acres on the Big Island, from Kalapana to Hilo, with tree stands showing a mortality rate greater than 50 percent. The disease was first observed a couple years ago in Hilo and Puna districts, according to Pap’s article. Within a few weeks of becoming infected, a tree can be killed by the disease.

Frame grab from DLNR video

Frame grab from DLNR video

“ROD is caused by a fungus called Ceratocystis fimbriata. This disease is new to Hawai‘i and the strain of fungus infecting ‘ohi‘a, has never been described before. While apparently only impacting Big Island forests currently, this has the potential of spreading statewide, so it’s critically important we do everything to stop it,” said Dr. J.B. Friday of the University of Hawai‘i Cooperative Extension Service.

Numerous state and federal agencies have partnered to develop up-to-date information about Rapid ‘Ohi‘a Death that will help minimize further spread and give researchers time to find answers and develop potential treatments. Scientists say new information is being uncovered nearly on a weekly basis.