HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly 70 containers of evergreen trees and wreaths arrived in Honolulu early Sunday, and agriculture inspectors from two states were there to greet them to make sure that no unwanted stowaways were aboard.
The trees came aboard the Matson Navigation vessel M.V. Manoa, which served as this year's official "Christmas Tree Ship." Matson actually has four shipments to Hawaii from the Pacific Northwest, but Sunday's arrival is the biggest one, with nearly half of the trees destined for the islands.
"(There's) anywhere from a couple hundred to maybe four, five hundred trees in a container," said Gary Nakamatsu, Matson's vice president of sales in Hawaii. "So you're looking at over 100,000 trees being brought in" this year.
Agriculture officials from Hawaii and Oregon were at Honolulu Harbor to give the trees a once-over. Each container was opened, and a few trees were taken out and given a good shake.
Inspectors immediately go through what falls out, and occasionally found insects, including small centipedes and beetles.
"These are just on the ground," said Dr. Helmuth Rogg of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, holding a vial with insects that came out of the trees. "These are ground beetles. And that's what happens when you leave the tree on the ground too long."
Last year, about half of the Christmas tree shipments to Hawaii were quarantined because too many insects and other critters were found. Efforts to reduce the number were made in Oregon, which harvests about seven million trees a year, making it the largest Christmas tree grower in the country.
Officials said the difference this year was "day and night," compared to last year.
"Most of our big growers and shippers pretty much tripled the efforts this year," said Rogg. "So they were shaking almost three times, some companies actually washing the trees and power washers and tree wash systems, so they really increased the efforts to make sure that the product is as clean as it can get."
Hawaii ag inspectors also traveled to Oregon. "We went up to see what they did and what we saw was very promising, and in turn, everything here has been very good," said Jonathan Ho, an inspector with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
Although far fewer insects were found, it wasn't perfect. At least four of the first containers unloaded, including one from Washington State, had to be quarantined after slugs were found.
"What we're going to do is have the slugs identified, just to make sure they're something that doesn't occur in Hawaii. And if it does, then we're going to have to take further action," said Ho.
As for the trees that do pass inspection, they'll be ready for sale as soon as Monday.