One afternoon I bump into the green health manager in the office corridor, wiping himself down with the sticky side of cello tape. What’s more, he’s got a rather large rash developing on his body just under the left arm. The ‘hairy caterpillars’ have got him and after having a shower, he is trying to remove any hairs that may still be on his skin.
During one of the regular inspections of the foliage at the wetland sanctuary and heritage (organic) garden by Nature Seychelles’ staff, it was discovered that the site had an infestation of the ‘hairy caterpillars’. There were four trees in a localised area in The Sanctuary, just by the Heritage (organic) Garden.
Various methods have been applied in the last couple of weeks to try and eradicate the yet to be identified caterpillars which have affected many people on several islands in the Seychelles. The hairs cause irritation and itchiness causing the skin to develop a sort of allergic rash.
Although more labour intensive, it was imperative that we use environmentally friendly methods to try and clear the caterpillars as any chemical based spray would have negatively affected the plants in our organic garden. The trees were first sprayed with Nilinsect which organic based. This only worked on the smaller caterpillars and not on the eggs or on the mature caterpillars on higher branches.
The eggs and older caterpillars were then singed using a long handle kerosene torch and some branches pruned and dropped into the water in the wetland. The staff working on clearing the site of caterpillars wore protective clothing the entire time ensuring that no skin was exposed. The movement of staff and visitors was also limited to certain areas of The Sanctuary and the Heritage (organic) Garden.
There has so far only been one incident where the ‘hairy caterpillars’ have caused skin irritation on the site. The green health manager got into the water to further cut the branches in the water while wearing only his waders and the hairs which were still in the water got onto his skin causing him to react immediately. The caterpillars and their hairs do not sink in the water and can still cause irritation after some time in the water.
The green health manager points out that had he worn caterpillar protective gear as well as the waders, as cumbersome as it may seem at the time, this incident highlights how important it is to follow health and safety measure at all times when working at the nature reserve or in the garden