The Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) and partner firm Oxitec’s plan to expand its so-called ‘friendly’ aedis aegypti project has been approved by the National Conservation Council.
Last July, after a legal challenge to the project was rejected in the courts, and as our island dealt with its first wave of Zika cases, the first genetically modified mosquitoes were rolled out in a 300 acre area of West Bay. In the months since that initial release, some 12 to 13 million genetically modified males have been released.
Now, MRCU and Oxitec officials are getting ready to ramp up production of the GMO males. Their aim: a two-stage island-wide rollout starting in early 2018.
Oxitec Cayman project manager Dr. Renaud LaCroix told Cayman 27 its island-wide rollout of the so-called ‘friendly’ aedes aegypti mosquito project will likely start in early 2018, when mosquito numbers are at their lowest.
“The best time to start a program is during the dry season because that’s when the mosquito population is low.
Documents provided along with the MRCU’s application to the National Conservation Council detailed its week-by week progress in suppressing the aedes aegypti population in the 300-acre West Bay treatment area.
“The project is going very well right now, but as I mentioned before, we are just facing the start of the rainy season, so it’s a bit of a transition process when the population explodes,” said Dr. LaCroix.
Dr. Lacroix told Cayman 27 the first stage of an island-wide rollout will focus on two of the island’s main population centres.
“The best way to work it is to do a big chunk of Grand Cayman, mostly targeting George Town and West Bay which are the main hotspot areas, and I think we will be aiming to treat from West Bay to George Town in one go,” said Dr. LaCroix.
Dr. LaCroix said Oxitec is working to ramp-up its infrastructure to handle the expansion, which will require a 10,000 square foot facility and a fleet of vehicles to distribute the GMO mosquitoes.
Meanwhile, he said efforts continue in West Bay, aiming to show higher levels of suppression in the rainy season.
“Mosquito populations vary a lot, even with in the high season you can find very different values if you inspect the yard, or if you inspect another trap,” said Dr. LaCroix.
Dr. Lacroix said there is some strategy behind taking on the aedes aegypti on Grand Cayman’s western peninsula before moving to the east. He said both last year’s Zika outbreak and 2015’s Chikungunya outbreak were centred in the western half of the island.