Strong team tackling Panama disease TR4

Since the outbreak of Panama TR4, the need for cohesive team work across the industry has been vital. Biosecurity Queensland has brought together a strong and talented team, led by Rebecca Sapupo, to work with growers and industry. Here we introduce you to Rebecca’s team members.

Panama impacts hit close to home for Ceri

For Dr Ceri Pearce, working as Planning and Policy Manager within the Panama TR4 program is both personally fulfilling and challenging.

The Innisfail resident and nature enthusiast says far north Queensland is the centre of her universe, with its rich tapestry of ecology and biodiversity providing her with inspiration during the 35 years she has called the region home.

Ceri works closely with Panama TR4 Program Leader, Rebecca Sapuppo and Operations Manager, Rhiannon Evans to lead strategic planning and provide technical and scientific advice relating to the detection, management, control and containment of the disease.

“I know many people who have been affected by the disease and I’m acutely aware of just how important the banana industry is to the region’s economy and lifestyle,” Ceri said.

“I feel both humbled and privileged to have a stimulating career in an area of plant science I absolutely love.”

Ceri worked in the role of Planning Manager at the local control centre in Moresby from day one of the Panama response in early March 2015 until the end of June.

She took up her current position within the program in late October, having returned briefly to her substantive role as Senior Plant Health Scientist with Biosecurity Queensland where she specialises in surveillance and responses for emergency plant pests.

The former nurse decided to pursue her interest in science around 25 years ago and since joining Biosecurity Queensland in 2003 has worked on numerous plant and animal incursions in the areas of planning, surveillance and operations.

Ceri, who also holds a PhD in fungal taxonomy, says fungal plant diseases are her professional passion, with her knowledge in this space proving advantageous in helping the team determine measures to be taken to contain Panama disease tropical race 4.

During her time with Biosecurity Queensland she has been involved in a number of plant pest responses including the banana freckle disease eradication program in the Northern Territory, red witch weed response in Mackay, the cocoa pod borer eradication project as well as other responses such as coffee berry borer, myrtle rust, tomato yellow leaf curl virus and citrus canker.

For more information on Panama disease tropical race 4 visit

Rhiannon rises to challenge

When Panama TR4 Program Operations Manager, Rhiannon Evans is not pursuing her passion for travelling, cooking and seeking new mountains to conquer, she thrives on the challenges of supporting the Panama TR4 Program team in meeting its key objective – the control and containment of Panama disease tropical race 4.

Having commenced her current role in early November 2015, Rhiannon works in collaboration with Program Leader, Rebecca Sapuppo and Program Planning Manager, Ceri Pearce to lead and deliver the operational outcomes of the Panama TR4 Program.

On a daily basis, Rhiannon is focussed on delivering high-quality surveillance, sound sampling practices, restricted area movement and security activities with a high degree of rigour and integrity.

She was also actively involved in the recruitment process for key operational personnel following the Panama TR4 Program’s transition from emergency response phase to managed response phase in late 2015.

Rhiannon, who was born and raised in New Zealand but has called the Innisfail district home for the past 23 years, said the Panama disease tropical race 4 incursion in North Queensland has its own unique set of challenges.

“The lengthy period of time we’ve been managing just the one property affected by the disease presents quite a conundrum,” she said.

“Strategy and planning for only one infested property requires a quite different approach to managing several properties affected by the disease.

“As there is a lengthy latency period, there are a lot of unknowns around the extent of its spread within the region.”

Rhiannon has worked on numerous plant and animal pest responses since joining the Department in 1996.

These have included Interstate Certification Assurance Supervisor for the Papaya Fruit Fly emergency response, a tracing and client liaison role for the Banana Black Sigatoka emergency response and Surveillance Coordinator for the Citrus Canker emergency response.

Most recently, Rhiannon was employed as the Controller for the Red Witch Weed emergency response, and was also a Tracing Officer in the early stages of the Panama disease TR4 response.

And what’s Rhiannon’s next challenge? Tackling Queensland’s highest mountain – Mount Bartle Frere – in July.

Suren finds Panama niche in tropical north

Having studied pest and diseases affecting various agricultural commodities in Sydney and across the USA for more than 15 years, Dr Suren Samuelian has found his niche in his current role as Panama TR4 Program Field Pathologist in North Queensland.

Bulgarian-born Suren, who joined the Panama TR4 Program in late 2015, has brought a high level of scientific expertise to the team, further boosting its robust surveillance capability as it works to control and contain banana plant disease, Panama disease tropical race 4.

Working in conjunction with the surveillance team, he visits banana farms across North Queensland looking for symptoms of the disease, conducting thorough examinations and sampling as required.

Suren, who moved to Australia from New York State with his family almost eight years ago and worked at Charles Sturt University before moving to Innisfail more than three years ago, said the Panama TR4 program is world class in terms of its execution.

“The tools available to the team including the electronic devices used in the field and procedures in place are of an exceptionally high standard,” he said.

“It’s great being a part of something important, fostering relationships with local banana growers and helping support an industry on which the livelihood of so many people depends.” Most recently, Suren was a plant pathologist with the Department working on a range of banana plant related diseases including Yellow Sigatoka, where he evaluated standard fungicides for their efficacy in controlling the disease.

Before becoming involved in the Panama TR4 Program he had also investigated the potential of bio-stimulants and softer chemicals for an integrated management of fungal pathogens affecting the banana industry.

Suren holds a PhD in Agriculture, a Masters in Nematology and a Masters in Environmental Protection.

He has had numerous research papers published in scientific journals and industry journals, and has also presented his findings at conferences, seminars, workshops and to industry stakeholders.