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By Juliet Blalack
Mosquito control is hardly controversial, right? The last way you want to spend your hard-earned vacation is swatting away mosquitoes and then scratching away at the bites. So it hardly seems tragic when the resort starts spraying the bloodsuckers.
However, the way that most resorts combat mosquitoes has some alarming implications for the environment. In the case of coastal areas, many mosquito pesticides can kill fish even when diluted down to one part per million. The spray washes out into oceans and coral alcoves. These chemicals are neurotoxins that can harm people, and spraying them into the air (called “fogging”) has an immediate effect on air quality.
“When they fog they have a special machine that generates a fine mist, like a smoke with diesel fuel and pesticides combined. You feel like you can’t breathe, it’s a really awful experience,” says Trudy Collins, an environmentally friendly mosquito control consultant.
Seem like a dilemma? That’s exactly where Trudy Collins comes in. This UC Berkeley-educated global citizen has made it her mission to help resorts and the communities around them solve mosquito problems safely, effectively, and inexpensively.
“It’s amazing how they can be doing this incredibly expensive fog program, and they will still be getting many, many mosquitoes and complaints from guests,” remarks Collins.
Collins goes into resorts that are using fogging and re-trains the staff in environmentally friendly mosquito control methods. She takes them out hunting for mosquito breeding areas, and teaches them how to prevent mosquitoes at the source. Killing the adult mosquitoes is not nearly as effective as destroying their breeding grounds, especially since mosquitoes become resistant to the pesticides over time.
“I imagine myself a bit like a female Sherlock Holmes, but instead of the bad guys, I’m looking for mosquitoes! I am always looking for water. It sounds easy, but it can be quite difficult. It is hard to imagine all the places at a resort or on a village island that contain water. It is often in pipes, in tanks, tarps, and tires, under concrete covers, or up high and difficult to reach. One strategy I employ is getting up as high as I can and looking down on the landscape. I can often spot problems that would be easy to miss from the ground,” says Collins.
Mosquitoes are very adaptable creatures. In some environments, it only takes a week for a mosquito to go from an egg to a biting adult. Some female mosquitos can lay between 100 and 300 eggs at a time in 15 different locations, and it is possible for the eggs to remain dry for a year and still be viable. Mosquitoes may be hiding their eggs in the oddest places.
“[In the Maldives] we spent an entire month with a crew of six people picking up and loading literally millions of coconuts into bags and then into large boats to get them off the island because coconuts hold water that breeds mosquitoes.”
It all comes down to water. Mosquitoes can breed in as little as one teaspoon full of water, and they can breed in water ranging from lakes to salt water pools to sewage. Collins has even spotted live mosquito larvae trapped under a sheet of ice in the Artic!
When she worked on the Maldives Islands, there were over 200 tanks that The Red Cross had donated to collect rainwater. Without screens or covers, they quickly turned into mosquito breeding grounds. Apparently, there were literally millions of mosquitoes coming out of the water tanks!
Once Collins and her team find the breeding grounds, the next step is to either drain the water or screen it. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Other times, adding a mosquito-eating organism to the love pond does the trick. BTI, for example, is a type of bacteria that will kill mosquito larvae and black flies without harming other organisms. However, BTI doesn’t stay in the environment for very long because it will break down in UV light. There are also mosquito-eating fish, and Thailand University researchers are experimenting with using copepods for mosquito control.
Collins stresses that the best solution is one that occurs naturally in the surrounding environment. So, if there happens to be mosquito-eating fish around, throw them in the pond. If copepods are natives, hire them as mosquito eaters.
While her mosquito-control methods are straightforward enough, Collins has an unpredictable element in every assignment she takes on: the social environment. Whenever she goes to a new resort in a new country, she is tasked with getting the local community onboard. People in the Maldives, for example, had some resistance at first.
“We met the head of the island council and he told us that they didn’t really have any mosquito problems in the village,” she recalls.
Since mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever are often a concern to the villages and towns surrounding resorts, sometimes they will get involved in order to control the diseases. In the Maldives, Collins worked with different women’s organizations. In both Thailand and the Maldives, she encountered young locals who became enthusiastic ambassadors of her mosquito control projects.
Right now Collins is a one-woman show under the moniker Mosquito Lady Consulting. She is considering hiring some other consultants, but isn’t currently seeking nonprofit status. Fortunately, since her work saves resorts money in the long-run, she is able to run a business in a financially sustainable manner and still do a world of good.
“Resorts have funding for a cost savings and can afford to help village islands, and I can make a living,” she explains.
Collins also hopes to make a model of environmentally friendly mosquito control that can be used in any location where someone is willing to hunt down the source.
In April and May, Collins is planning to start two new projects on two islands she hasn’t worked with before in the Maldives. Hopefully she’ll send Sierra Club Green Home some pictures!
To learn more, you may contact Trudy Collins at: [email protected].
For related articles, see:
Safe Indoor Pest Control
Squash Bed Bugs With This Natural, Effective Solution
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