Pest control consultant Trudy Rilling-Collins, better known as the ‘Mosquito Lady’ has been working closely with Four Seasons Kuda Huraa resort and the local community of neighbouring Boda Huraa to introduce sustainable and environmentally friendly mosquito control procedures.
As the South-West monsoon season reaches the Maldives, wetter weather will bring rain to replenish the water tanks that provide safe drinking water for the people of the islands. But it is not just the human population who will be glad to see the clouds rolling overhead.
The increased rainfall is also particularly appealing to the country’s mosquito population, which will take full advantage of any available water in which they can lay their eggs. Any stagnant body of water will be most appreciated by Aedes aegypti and her cousin Aedes albopictus, the mosquito species that carry the dengue virus which has been afflicting Maldivians in increasing numbers in recent years.
Aedes aegypti will utilise any water available in which to lay her eggs. She will live for only one month, but in that time her larvae will take full advantage of any accommodating bucket, well, puddle, blocked drain or water tank.
She will sustain herself during this period by feeding exclusively on human blood, unlike her cousin who will happily feed off any red-blooded creature.
Aedes aegypti is a particular fan of mid-market tourism, preferring to find accommodation in close proximity to the local community. Eager to ingratiate herself with her human food supply, she can visit up to five people per blood meal, potentially passing the dengue virus to all she acquaints herself with.
She will be able to lay four lots of eggs in her lifetime which is more than long enough to see her young grow into fully grown biting adults, a process that takes only one week.
One place where Aedes aegypti and her kin will not receive a hospitable welcome this year, however, is on the resort island of Kuda Huraa in North Male’ Atoll and the inhabited island of Bodu Huraa next door.
The resort has this year enlisted the help of Trudy Rilling-Collins, otherwise known as ‘Mosquito Lady’, to ensure that its hospitality extends only to the human guests.
Trudy runs her own consultancy, specialising in environmentally responsible pest control, and has been working closely with Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and the Bodu Huraa community to ensure that there are no vacancies for dengue spreading visitors.
The resort on Kuda Huraa and the local community share a symbiotic relationship. The resort provides around 13 percent of the registered population in Bodu Huraa with jobs and has provided vital infrastructure to the local population.
The town’s sewerage system was provided by Four Seasons and the company has even assisted in providing fresh water to Bodu Huraa during the current dry season.
This close relationship is not lost on the mosquitos, who can easily travel the short distance between the islands, to feed happily from tourists and locals alike.
Trudy studied the biological control of insects and became disillusioned with the extensive use of harmful pesticides in what she sees as often futile attempts to control pests.
The use of pesticides in a diesel fuel carrier, referred to as fogging, is widely practised in the Maldives and throughout the tropical regions, although Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, which also pays for mosquito control in the two islands, has not fogged since Trudy’s arrival in April.
“The neurotoxins present in pesticides used for fogging on the islands have the same effects on humans that they have on the insects, it just takes far higher doses to affect humans,” said Trudy.
“Fogging kills only a small percentage of adults, five to ten percent if you’re lucky, and over time results in increased resistance,” she added.
Trudy believes that the key to mosquito control lies in making the area inhospitable to the pests: “80-90 percent of the problem can be sorted by eliminating standing water where mosquitoes breed.”
The effects of these chemicals are also harmful to the local environment, a particular concern for SEAMARC, a Maldivian an environmental consultancy that works closely with Four Seasons.
Alban Viaud, a marine biologist on Kuda Huraa, explained that the fogging chemicals which are quickly washed into the ocean are harmful to marine health: “Only a few parts per million can kill fish.”
Trudy has been working closely with the resort, the local council, schools and the community to implement a sustainable, effective and environmentally friendly way to keep mosquito numbers down.
Strength in numbers
After having visited the islands, there is a strong understanding emerging that, rather than chemicals, it is the community that is the strongest weapon in making Aedes aegypti feel unwelcome.
Measures have been taken to clear breeding grounds during Trudy’s time on Bodu Huraa. She has worked with the islanders to identify and eliminate as many breeding grounds as possible.
Of particular concern were the islands old septic tanks, long since replaced by the sewerage system supplied by the resort, but still capable of retaining water through gaps in the paving slabs. After water collects in such areas, Aedes aegypti is sure to follow.
Covering these gaps with concrete eliminates the tanks as another potential holiday home for the mosquitoes.
A similar, and innovative, method to prevent mosquitoes checking in to household water tanks was in full swing when Minivan News visited Boda Huraa.
Ringed hoses, filled with sand were being constructed in order to secure a fine mesh over the top of the water tanks, allowing access to rainwater but not to mosquitoes.
In the shade of the local council building, three resort employees could be found steadily working on the project. With around 250 tanks on the island, the team had a long way to go but seemed enthusiastic.
One of the men working on the rings was resort employee Rafeeq, who has been assigned the vital task of checking, sampling and clearing potential breeding areas. The job will require four hours of Rafeeq’s time every day, for six days every week.
The town’s households have been surveyed and divided into eight zones, meaning that each house should be checked three times in each one month cycle.
Around the corner, another simple and sustainable method was being used for removing larvae from water supplies. Fish are a far more welcome guest in the ground wells. No room service is required as they feed largely off any larvae they can find in water, which the townsfolk no longer use for drinking. One type of fish often found in the wells can eat up to 40 mosquitoes in three minutes.
“Energy and action are key components the success of this project. I try to push for simple sustainable solutions,” said Trudy.
“But it takes someone on the ground to create action,” she added.
A vital part of her mission in Bodu Huraa has been to raise awareness and create enthusiasm for the eradication scheme. This has involved numerous presentations given to all sections of the community, from the employees at the resort to the children in the local school.
Shafyga Arif, the island’s Community Health Officer noted that there had been a big reduction in the mosquito population since the scheme had begun.
She also noted that the community would be important in keeping numbers low, with leaders appointed within each of the project’s eight zones. “They have to do it themselves. Each person should take responsibility. People had some previous awareness but didn’t care before,” said Shafyga, who has herself pledged nine hours of her working week to the project.
Back at the council building, the Island’s Council President Abdel Rahman Saleh explained that a local task force comprising fifty members of the local community had been formed to work on the scheme.
The task force members are working on a volunteer basis as there is no space in the council’s current budget for the scheme. Saleh said that he had requested more funds for such projects for next year.
“The task force will work. The government requested that we continue the project for twelve weeks, but we intend to continue it forever,” he added.
The appreciation of the health and environmental benefits of these sustainable methods appeared to be widespread as Trudy neared the end of her time on the islands.
Of equal importance was the realisation that the fight against the mosquitoes will only be as strong as its weakest link, and that the resort, the local government and the community must continue to patrol and eradicate potential breeding sites.
With the entire community working together and remaining vigilant, it is hoped that Kuda Huraa and Bodu Huraa will be receiving poor reviews from Aedes aegypti for the foreseeable future.