Banana freckle in the Northern Territory

Banana freckle is a disease of banana leaves and fruit. This particular disease is caused by the Phyllosticta cavendishii fungus.

There is no risk to food safety or human health from eating bananas infected with this disease.

Current situation

The Northern Territory Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism is continuing with its response to an outbreak of banana freckle that was detected in May 2022.

There are currently 29 infected premises, most of which are located in the Batchelor-Rum Jungle area. In July 2022 there was a single detection at a government research facility in the Middle Point area, followed by detections in Marrakai, Fly Creek and on Melville Island in the Tiwi Islands, in August.

Response activities

The Northern Territory department has conducted surveillance at more than 540 properties since the initial detection.

Along with working closely with the affected communities, the Northern Territory department is working closely with the banana and nursery industries, the Commonwealth, as well as other state and territory governments through the national response arrangements.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests continues to meet in response to this outbreak. In light of the new detection at Marrakai, Fly Creek and Melville Island, the committee still agrees that banana freckle remains technically feasible to eradicate. A revised Response Plan will be considered by the National Management Group. The plan takes a phased approach to eradication of the disease based on removing infected and at-risk host plants from affected premises; tracing and surveillance; compliance and community engagement. If endorsed, response activities can continue under the national cost-sharing arrangements which will include owner re-imbursement costs.

Plant Health Australia has information on owner re-imbursement costs under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed.

In addition the Northern Territory is working with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to train Indigenous Ranger groups on banana freckle surveillance. The Indigenous ranger groups are part of the Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy which is a program that works across northern Australia and with its communities to keep watch for exotic pests and diseases.

Movement restrictions

Following confirmation of the disease, banana growing states including Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, have restrictions in place that prohibits banana fruit and/or banana plant material being brought in from the Northern Territory.

Travellers

While there are quarantine checkpoints at some state borders, travellers should not take banana fruit, the peel or banana plant material out of the area from which it was purchased.

See more on the Australian Interstate Quarantine website.

Biosecurity and reporting

Disposing of bananas and peel

All waste banana fruit, peel and material should be disposed of in appropriate waste disposal bins and should not be discarded onto the ground or on other plants, regardless of whether you are in the Northern Territory or not.

Growers

This new outbreak reiterates the need for banana growers, householders and banana production nurseries, especially in northern Australia, to check their banana plants regularly and report any signs of disease. Simply call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

Reporting any sick or dying plants is critical to help minimise impacts on businesses and the community.

What to look for

Banana freckle appears as dark raised spots and feels like fine sandpaper on the leaves or fruit. On fruit, individual spots first appear as minute, reddish-brown flecks surrounded by a halo of dark-green, water-soaked tissue.

Banana freckle on fruit. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana freckle on fruit. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana leaf heavily infected. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana leaf heavily infected. Photo courtesy Jose Liberato.
Banana plant infected with Banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.
Banana plant infected with Banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.
Banana leaf infected with banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.
Banana leaf infected with banana freckle. Photo courtesy NT Government.

About banana freckle

Banana freckle is a pest of banana leaves and fruit caused by a fungal pathogen. Affected bananas are safe to eat but blemishes on the skin reduce their visual appeal and saleability. Banana freckle reduces the productivity of banana plants.

The fungus Phyllosticta cavendishii which infects Cavendish and non-Cavendish bananas and is not considered established in Australia.

Banana freckle has been recorded in 27 countries across South-east Asia, Oceania and India.

Previous banana freckle outbreak

A large four-phase banana freckle eradication program occurred between 2013-2019 in the Northern Territory. This response was cost-shared under national arrangements by Australian Banana industry, several state and territory governments, the Commonwealth and the nursery industry.

43,589 properties engaged with the NT-wide surveillance program in phase 1, with over 500,000 banana plants destroyed on 9,500 properties. Banana freckle was detected and treated on 260 properties.

The disease was successfully eradicated with proof of freedom declared on 1 February 2019.

The previous response to banana freckle in the NT was a four-phase program. The first phase involved destruction of host material; the second required a host-free period of at least six months, including a full wet season. During the third phase sentinel disease-free banana plants were monitored for the disease; and proof of freedom occurred in phase four.

More information about banana freckle

NT Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism

Plant Health Australia