Push to get Capel residents to entice mosquitoes as bugs bug WA’s coastal group

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Mosquitoes have been troubling parts of South West WA so much that one shire is looking at launching a citizen science project to address the issue.

Key points:

  • Shire of Capel says mosquitoes are significantly impacting the lives of the residents
  • It is looking at incentivising ratepayers to trap and count mosquito numbers
  • Virologist says citizen science projects must be done in collaboration with universities and experts to be effective

Capelshire President Doug Kitchen says the insects plague communities across Stratham, Gelorup and south of Dalyellup.

“Some people reckon [the mosquitoes] can block out the sun,” Councilor Kitchen said.

“It’s pretty bad, in my opinion.”

After a special electors’ meeting in October 2021, the shire is now considering discouraging ratepayers to trap and count the mosquitoes.

“We found out during the electors’ meeting that the mosquitoes are having a significant impact on the lifestyle of the people in the area,” he said.

“We’re looking into a program that would enable citizens to capture, count and collect data relating to the mosquito population and distribution in that area.”

Mr Kitchen believed this could help determine the extent of the problem and ultimately lead to a solution.

While the shire has been working with the Department of Health to manage the mosquito hotspot of Muddy Lakes in Stratham, Mr Kitchen said mapping insect numbers with the help of residents could better aid in fixing the problem.

“We’re looking into … incentivising people with a [rate] rebate or something along those lines to help with the purchase of the mosquito-trapping equipment,” he said.

Not just any bug

While mosquitoes are one of the deadliest creatures in the world, you are extremely unlikely to be killed by one in the South West.

In the past month, there have been one death and seven hospitalizations from acute encephalitis associated with mosquito-borne viruses in South Australia.

Meanwhile, in the South West, Capel resident Mark Wiltshire said he had been suffering from symptoms of Ross River virus for the past 14 months after contracting it in Peppermint Beach.

During this time, he has suffered from fatigue, aches, pains, fevers, and headaches.

“You’ve heard about long COVID – it’s similar,” he said.

Virology professor Roy Hall says Ross River virus can be very debilitating.(supplies)

University of Queensland professor of virology Roy Hall said the virus was one of the biggest problems mosquitoes presented in the South West.

“Pretty much everybody who gets Ross River recovers, but it can be very debilitating. You can’t work. You can’t even walk at times,” he said.

“You can develop polyarthritis, which affects smaller joints in the feet, fingers, ankles and knees.”

Professor Hall said this kind of arthritis was prolonged, painful and debilitating.

“Most people recover in six weeks to two months,” he said.

“Some say they suffered for years, but that’s not common.”

While places like Queensland were more at risk, Mr Hall said there were times when the South West had all the right conditions and enough water lying around to see it there.

He said the aedes vigilax and aedes camptorhynchus were key mosquito species to look out for.

“It’s an interesting combination between two related species that ramp up this transmission for outbreaks,” he said.

“One of them initiates the outbreak, and the other one maintains it.

“That’s generally how it works.”

Citizen scientists can help, but need direction

A neck-down photo of a person wearing a green hi-viz vest holding a white mosquito trap. Professor Hall says citizen scientists must work with experts for the project to work.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

For citizen scientists to help address the mosquito problem in Capel, Mr Hall said they would need to work in collaboration with a university and experts who could help identify and study the mosquito species being collected.

“That’s important. Otherwise, they could be wasting their time,” he said.

“It’s not easy to identify a mosquito species unless you’ve had training.

“Once you’ve had the training by experts, you can do it, but that is something that is a bit tricky.”

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