MADRID, April 3 (Xinhua) -- The bacteria "xylella fastidiosa" has emerged as a possible threat to olive trees in Europe and was detected on the Spanish island of Mallorca in October 2016, prompting fears for the island's extensive and picturesque plantations.
Xylella was first detected in North America and reached Italy in 2013, leading to the destruction of thousands of acres of olive trees in an attempt to combat the infection, which so far has no cure.
The Spanish "El Mundo" newspaper has described "xylella" as the "ebola for olive trees," while others have made comparisons with the "phylloxera," pest which ravaged European vineyards in the late 19th century.
Speaking in an interview with Xinhua, Sebastian Solivellas, president of the Mallorca Olive Oil Region, took a less catastrophic view of xylella, although he admitted the plague was now well established on the island and others in the Balearic chain.
"We tried to stop it spreading over the island but we took samples and discovered that it was already all over Mallorca, and not just in Mallorca, but also in Menorca and Ibiza," he told Xinhua.
He explained the bacteria must have been imported as it has no other way of crossing open water and explained the island was applying a "containment" policy, which meant a tree was burned if it as discovered to be infected, but Solivellas was opposed to the widescale "eradication" policy which had been applied in Italy.
He said such a policy would be "a disaster as it would mean destroying 1,000 year old trees, which have a lot of history and also a countryside which feeds us," because as well as providing oil, the olive trees on the island were a key part of Mallorca's attraction to tourists.
"It is the countryside which brings many people to visit Mallorca and we feel that destroying the countryside would be worse than the infection itself," he commented.
The president of the Mallorcan olive oil producing region was less pessimistic about the bacteria than others, and told Xinhua that xylella can live inside a tree for a long time without its presence being felt.
"It is when the tree needs water or has another illness that the bacteria is activated and that is when the tree suffers... A lot of people believe that if it has been here for a long time and we didn't know about it, so if there hasn't been a disaster up to know, here is no need for there to be on in the future," he considered.
Solivellas also gave his solution to best controlling xylella; "having the plantations well looked after and healthy is the best we can do, because like all plagues it always attacks the oldest and weakest trees... I want to be positive as the data shows that we can think like that. It is another pest, one that has had more publicity that others, but those of us who work in the country are used to dealing with them," he concluded.