SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—Flowers are the most popular gift item during the yearly celebration of Valentine's Day, but they could also be the hiding place for dangerous pests.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina and the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla spend numerous hours searching for these bugs.
From the start of this new year, CBP agriculture specialists have dedicated numerous hours inspecting cut flower imports arriving, primarily from Colombia (502 million stems), followed by Ecuador (187 million stems), as well as from Mexico, Netherlands, Costa Rica and Thailand.
Nationwide CBP processed approximately 802.5 million cut flower stems during the 2011 Valentine's season (from January 1 to February 14, 2011) compared to 320.8 millions stems processed during the 2010 season (an increase of 150%).
San Juan ranks among the Top 10 ports of entry processing 2,439,812 cut flower imports. Miami ranks as the first among U.S. ports of entry for shipments of cut flower imports, followed by Los Angeles.
The imported cut flowers inspection process resulted in a total of 1,662 pest interceptions nationally during last year's Valentines' season. In Puerto Rico, a total of 377 actionable pests were intercepted, with 238 pests intercepted at the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla and 139 at the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport in San Juan. Aguadilla ranks 4th and San Juan 5th among the amount of plant pests intercepted from shipments of imported flowers nationwide.
The most common type of insects intercepted in these cut flower imports are Thrips (Thripidae), Moths (Noctuidae), Aphids (Aphididae), and Miner Flies (Agromyzidae). These insects are considered invasive pests as they have the potential to adversely affect the habitats and bioregions they invade economically, environmentally and/or ecologically.
Roses top the list of the top 10 cut flower imports followed by Mixed Bouquets, Rose Bouquets, Dianthus (carnations) and Chrysanthemum (pom-pon).
"Stopping pests at the ports of entry is a critical mission for our agricultural specialists to protect the public and our commercial vitality," said Marcelino Borges, Director of Field Operations for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.