Mount Maunganui 'could slide into the ocean' if myrtle rust kills pōhutakawa

There are grave concerns for the health of one of New Zealand's iconic maunga, or mountains, as the country struggles to stop the spread of myrtle rust.

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The maunga is of huge cultural significance, but it’s under threat. Source: 1 NEWS

If the disease takes hold in the Bay of Plenty, the landscape may change forever.

The tracks of Mount Maunganui, or Mauao, are used daily, with more that a million trips to the summit each year.

The mountain has huge cultural significance, but it's under threat.

"If the pōhutakawa was to die we could see huge landslips form and our mountain could slide into the ocean," Carlton Bidois of biosecurity group Tauranga Moana Biosecurity Capital told 1 NEWS.

It's because of myrtle rust, a fungal disease which attacks plants in the myrtle family including pōhutukawa, manuka and rata. 

On Mt Maunganui pōhutukawa act as anchors, stabilising the fragile hillside.

Beccy Ganley of Plant and Food Research says at this point the agency is looking to see what's going to happen to highly susceptible species and "will we be looking at localised extinction".

Myrtle rust is carried by the wind. Given its widespread distribution, Biosecurity New Zealand is no longer collecting and analysing data, cutting back on its targeted surveillance and control activities.

"Our ministries need to invest more in things like the battle against myrtle rust," Mr Bidois said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries says its spending millions of dollars on research to reduce the impact of myrtle rust.

It says it's focused on finding better ways to improve monitoring and surveillance, seedbanking strategies, education and collaboration.

That's little comfort for those on the frontline who fear myrtle rust might already be here.

"Without this mountain, without its korowai, we are nothing. Our cultural economy will implode," Mr Bidois said.

It's a warning of what could happen without appropriate measures in place to protect the much-loved maunga.