New aerial surveys find Rapid Ohia Death moving at 'alarming speed' on Big Island

Updated: May. 15, 2017 at 5:18 PM HST
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HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new aerial survey found the area of ohia forests on the Big Island killed by a fast-moving fungus increased by a startling 50 percent over the last year.

The good news: The fungal infection appears to only be on Hawaii Island.

"Rapid Ohia Death continues to spread at an alarming speed," said state Department of Land and Natural Resources survey forester Philipp LaHeala Walter. "It appears the original outbreaks are increasing in size and the disease is moving north along the Hamakua coast of Hawaii Island."

Surveyors eyed 82 percent of the state's ohia forests (over 780,000 acres) by helicopter.

On the Big Island, they found an additional 26,000 acres that are believed to have been affected by the rapid ohia death. That's in addition to more than 48,000 acres identified in July 2016.

Officials stress that additional surveys are needed to track the fungal infection's spread.

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