Biosecurity Matters, Edition 3, 2020
Biosecurity is the management of the risk of pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia and causing harm to animals, plants or human health, the economy, the environment and the community.
Reduced air traffic at Sydney airport provides a rare opportunity for surveillance around runways and surrounding areas.
As we recover from COVID-19, it’s nice to hear some positive stories coming out of this challenging time. The pandemic has significantly reduced the number of arriving passengers and aircraft at airports around the country.
For staff in our National Border Surveillance and Vector Monitoring teams, this has resulted in a significant decrease in travel-related biosecurity risk management activity.
Reduced air traffic has given Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment staff the opportunity to do biosecurity surveillance work at the usually very busy Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport.
Being able to access runways and surrounding areas is incredibly rare. The team has taken the opportunity to conduct thorough surveys including trapping ants, ground surveys for mosquitoes, botanical surveys and general surveillance.
Continue reading about rare opportunity from COVID-19
Wayne See Kee, head of Science and Surveillance Group, says this work helps ensure traps are in the right places and to identify risk areas where mosquitos or other exotic pests, diseases or weeds might establish. It also helps prepare for potential future incursions of exotic pests, diseases or weeds at these sites.
‘The surveys are part of our broader biosecurity work and ensure exotic species are detected and eradicated before they can affect our unique biodiversity and the agriculture sector.’
‘The samples collected will keep our staff busy for some time as they continue with pest, disease and weed diagnostic work,’ Mr See Kee said.
Also since March, the department has redeployed almost 400 biosecurity officers from airports into a diverse range of roles. The officers are now helping with mail and cargo inspections, which have seen an increase in activity during the pandemic due to more online shopping. They have also moved to other biosecurity operation areas such as science and surveillance, assessments and audit.
‘While initially, this was a challenge for all of us to respond to. We can now reflect that it provides long-term lessons on the value of having a flexible workforce and multi-skilled people,’ Mr See Kee said.
‘Indeed, we’ve seen this right across the public service during these unprecedented times.’
Learn more about pest and disease surveillance at Australia’s borders.
Technology like DNA fingerprinting for imported dogs will aim to improve how we verify compliance with our import conditions.
All Australians enjoy the benefits of our strong biosecurity system. It protects our agricultural industries and safeguards our precious natural resources. But certain areas of growing biosecurity risks, like increasing international cargo and mail, means there are big challenges ahead.
Through the Biosecurity Innovation Program, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is working closely with industry to develop solutions for some of our biggest challenges.
Head of Biosecurity Innovation, Cathryn Geiger, expressed how important it was for the department to work in partnership with industry.
‘We need industry to be a part of the solution. We welcome Australian researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs and innovative businesses to come forward and help us address these challenges that we face as a nation.’
Continue reading about funding the next big idea: biosecurity innovations leading us into the future
Recent projects have included DNA fingerprinting for imported dogs, which will aim to improve how we verify compliance with our import conditions.
Another will look into the use of virtual reality to train our biosecurity officers and using remote sensing technologies, such as drones, to identify and quantify feral pig populations.
‘We are building on the success of our 3D X-rays at airports and mail centres via a project that will allow them to automatically detect seeds — this will be a world first for biosecurity,’ Ms Geiger said.
Industry partners include innovators from the business sector, universities and research entities.
‘We must work smarter and more efficiently, so we can continue protecting our industries, environment and trade from growing biosecurity threats,’ Ms Geiger said.
Biosecurity Industry Innovation Challenge
The department also collaborated with the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) to host the fully virtual Biosecurity Industry Innovation Challenge in May this year. The event provided a platform for start-ups, SMEs, researchers, businesses and people with entrepreneurial potential to ask questions and propose solutions.
The event centred on 4 key challenges: audits, treatment verification, exotic invasive ants and container traceability.
Three of the proposals received $50,000 in funding from the department to conduct feasibility studies and test their ideas:
- SensaData will adapt pre-commercial gas monitoring Smart-r-Tag IoT solutions to the requirements of our fumigation processes.
- Zirkarta will expand on and re-purpose the Zirkarta real-time communication platform. This will test whether changes to the platform can assist with remote auditing.
- The Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry will examine ant pheromones. This is aimed at identifying key resources, equipment and material requirements for further development and pilots.
If you want to share an idea or learn more, visit biosecurity innovation on The Seed.
Wellesley Island Rangers Justin Chong (left) and Shaquille Amini recording GPS coordinates and collecting a herbarium specimen of a suspected exotic weed.
In mid-February, Wellesley Island Rangers came across a conspicuous thorny shrub growing on the roadside several kilometres outside the settlement of Gununa, Mornington Island, Queensland.
They did not recognise the plant, so Ranger Coordinator Thomas Wilson photographed it and emailed the images to Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) for identification.
Mr Wilson noted that the soil/road base at the site had been imported to Mornington Island from the Bing Bong region of Northern Territory.
The head of Science and Surveillance Group, Wayne See Kee, said it was an important find.
‘The rangers were particularly concerned, and rightly so, because other weeds have turned up in or near Gununa in the past 12 months — and they suspected the road fill was the source,’ Mr See Kee said.
Continue reading about detection of Solanum melanospermum on Mornington Island
NAQS botanists thought the plant looked like an Australian native species of Solanum, the same genus as tomatoes and potatoes in Family Solanaceae. But without a herbarium specimen they could not be sure. They forwarded the photos to the Solanaceae taxonomist at Queensland Herbarium.
The taxonomist’s initial response was that it looked like Solanum melanospermum, a plant native to the Northern Territory and considered ‘endemic’ to the Borroloola to Bing Bong region of the NT and agreed the only way to be certain of the identity was to inspect a herbarium specimen. However, there were no validated records of this species occurring in Queensland.
‘Our NAQS officers worked remotely with the Wellesley Island Rangers to collect a herbarium specimen. The dried specimen was later transported to the Cairns lab by a visiting NAQS Community Liaison Officer to be prepared for transport to the herbarium,’ Mr See Kee said.
The Queensland Herbarium confirmed the specimen as Solanum melanospermum, noting it was an excellent match with other specimens from the Bing Bong area held at Queensland Herbarium.
‘While it is an Australian native, this species isn’t native to Mornington Island.’
‘It’s thorny and could potentially be spread by birds and mammals. In other parts of Australia, other introduced species of Solanum have become significant weeds,’ Mr See Kee said.
This is the first authenticated record of this species from Queensland and will be kept in the herbarium’s collection.
Wellesley Island Rangers continue to look out for this species and for any other weeds which may have inadvertently been introduced to Mornington Island.
‘This is an excellent example of the benefits of collaborating with ranger groups who are keeping an eye out for new pests, diseases and weeds on their country,’ according to Mr See Kee.
‘The rangers received training in collecting herbarium specimens and had received a plant press and other equipment as part of the NAQS Community Engagement and Indigenous Biosecurity Ranger program.’
‘Identifying this unknown weed is a significant achievement. Particularly in the face of factors outside of our control like Tropical Cyclone Esther in the Wellesley Islands in late February and the challenges caused by COVID-19,’ Mr See Kee said.
Learn more about the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy.
This year’s seasonal BMSB measures produced outstanding outcomes.
In May, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment saw the end of the 2019–20 brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) risk season.
Goods shipped or vessels that arrived from identified risk countries on or after 31 May 2020 were no longer subject to the BMSB seasonal measures including the Seasonal Pest Inspection (SPI).
Head of biosecurity, Lyn O’Connell, praised industry for their hard work and said this year’s measures produced outstanding outcomes.
‘Together with our industry partners, we took a really proactive stance this season to ensure this highly-invasive pest didn’t reach our shores.’
‘The number of countries known to have BMSB, or intelligence of BMSB being present, has grown significantly. It went from 9 during the 2018–19 season up to 32 in the current season presenting us with a much greater challenge,’ Ms O’Connell said.
Continue reading about a highly successful BMSB season
To combat this increased risk, while maintaining the smooth processing of cargo, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment implemented some important new measures this season.
‘To manage the BMSB risk offshore as much as possible we approved and registered 216 offshore treatment providers. This was done in conjunction with our New Zealand counterparts. It allowed us to implement mandatory offshore treatment for break bulk and flat rack/open top containers for the 2019–20 season.’
‘As a result, 65,493 containers/break bulk items — over 40% of containers subject to BMSB — were treated offshore. This meant they were not subject to local BMSB intervention and sped up clearance times in Australia,’ Ms O’Connell said.
SeaPest, a new system the department developed to manage Less than Container Load (LCL)/Freight of All Kinds (FAK) consignments at the container level. This has helped process 11,247 containers and removed the need to manage 42,993 LCL consignments. These would have otherwise been subject to BMSB intervention.
The department undertook 257 seasonal pest inspections of vessels. This resulted in 3 vessels being turned around due to detections of live BMSB and other hitchhiker pests.
‘We saw a marked reduction in BMSB detections — from 63 post-biosecurity detections in 2018–19 down to 18 for the 2019–20 season. This is an impressive figure, given that risk has increased. Most notably, only 4 of these detections were of live BMSB, compared to 31 live post-biosecurity detections in 2018–19,’ Ms O’Connell said.
BMSB poses a very significant threat to Australia’s $24.6 billion agriculture, horticulture and grain export industries.
‘I’d like to thank industry for a great season, but also for ensuring that goods are imported free of biosecurity risk material throughout the year, not just during periods of heightened seasonal measures.’
‘This is a great example of how industry partnerships generate fantastic results,’ Ms O’Connell said.
Improved testing requirements enhance the way we test imported strawberry tissue culture for biosecurity risks.
The Australian strawberry industry will benefit from improved testing requirements for imported strawberry tissue culture from June this year following a review of import conditions.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment recently reviewed import conditions to ensure they are up-to-date, efficient and continue to effectively manage biosecurity risks.
The review identified several improvements to the import conditions for strawberry tissue culture, including:
- reducing the minimum duration in government post-entry quarantine from 18 months to 12 months
- updating the existing pathogen testing regime with more comprehensive and contemporary polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
Continue reading about improved testing requirements for imported strawberry tissue culture
The head of Plant Import Operations, Bussakorn Mpelasoka, said these improvements will enhance the way we test imported strawberry tissue culture for biosecurity risks.
‘They will also have the additional benefit of accelerating industry’s access to imported plant material,’ Dr Mpelasoka said.
Roger Broadley from the Queensland Strawberry Growers’ Association said the reduced time in government post-entry quarantine is significant.
‘Importantly, it also ensures that the Australian strawberry industry will not be afflicted by the introduction of new pathogens into this country,’ Mr Broadley said.
These changes will come into effect by 30 June 2020. To be notified of the change in BICON, register to receive the alert.
This review was part of the Accelerating Horticultural Market Access Project and the Australian Government’s commitment to enhancing Australia’s agricultural trade.
For more information, email us your query.
The food you buy is for eating, not planting.
Many of us love to grow fresh, healthy fruit and veggies in our own backyards. It’s a great way to learn about growing plants, save money and eat well.
Planting fruits and vegetables or seeds of herbs and spices meant for eating may seem cost effective and resourceful, but you could unknowingly introduce exotic pests and diseases into your garden. Once in your garden, exotic pests and diseases could spread further.
While these pests and diseases pose no risk to human health when eaten, they may have a significant impact on the health of our plants. They could threaten Australia’s agricultural industries and irreversibly damage our unique natural environment and biodiversity.
Our import conditions vary depending on the intended purpose of a product, whether it be for eating or for growing. You can help keep exotic pests and diseases out of Australia by using a product for its intended use. When buying fresh, dried or preserved foods to eat, make sure you put them on your plate and not in your garden.
To keep your garden healthy and safe from exotic pests and diseases, source your plants and seeds for growing from reputable suppliers. Seeds and plants that are meant for planting are grown from healthy propagative material and in many cases are certified as free of exotic pests and diseases.
So the next time you are tempted by that old potato sprouting in your pantry or those chilli seeds rescued from the spice rack… remember ‘Plate it, don’t plant it’ to help keep Australia clean and green.
Biosecurity officers acquire invaluable opportunity during COVID-19. Sean Maggs, Stuart Fraser, Bridget Oliphant (pictured left to right) put their people skills to good use while redeployed to the Perth Client Contact Group.
With the reduction in international air passenger travel due to COVID-19, our biosecurity officer presence at Australia’s international airports continues to deliver important biosecurity and human health screening and clearance. The number of biosecurity officers required is far less, with some 350 redeployed to other work within the department and to Services Australia.
Biosecurity officers who have been redeployed are embracing a varied range of activities and roles – for some, re-familiarising and some experiencing new and diverse opportunities across operational, policy and administrative environments.
Rick Hawe, head of Inspections Group, said the circumstances have provided biosecurity officers with opportunity to assimilate, broaden their experience and learn new skills while continuing to contribute to and support the department during the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Staff who have been redeployed to international mail gateways are transitioning existing capabilities to support the screening and inspection of increased volumes of mail due to growth in online shopping.’
Continue reading about airport biosecurity staff redeployed to where they’re needed most
‘Bolstering our surveillance capacity is having positive effect on detection of exotic pest species such as trapping ants and providing valued response to ground surveys for mosquitoes, botanical surveys and general surveillance,’ Mr Hawe said.
Overall, the feedback from officers has been positive and encouraging.
‘My redeployment has given me the opportunity to learn new skills and become accredited in Imported Foods. It has been a steep learning curve and chance to get out of my comfort zone and try something new,’ said Julie Payne in Sydney.
‘I’m thankful to the team I’ve been assigned to work with. They’ve made me feel welcome from the very start and eased any apprehension I had coming into the redeployment,’ Ms Payne continued.
35 staff accepted redeployment to Services Australia to process JobSeeker claims.
‘It has been a big change, I used to do 30,000 steps each day and work in shifts and now I sit at a computer in an office Monday to Friday,’ said Officer Bayliss, currently working at Services Australia in Brisbane.
‘I wanted to help out and do my bit. This has been a big life event for so many, and I am proud that I can do my bit for my fellow Australians by providing a vital service,’ Mr Bayliss said.
Detector Dogs, formerly providing vital biosecurity detection capability at international airports, have also had to adjust to the reduced passenger activity.
With recent implementation of the 2020 mail profiles, and maintaining vigilance on the risk of African swine fever, our dogs are actively screening mail. Additionally, preparation for the next brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) season is well advanced with the dogs maintaining their training and detection capability, including extending to the broader cargo and military aircraft hangar environment.
While obviously effective in detecting biosecurity risk with arriving international travellers, our detector dogs are equally proficient and adaptable at screening and sniffing out pest and disease risks within other pathways.
Find out more about biosecurity in Australia.
Pests and diseases like these termite (Coptotermes gestroi) specimens found aboard the yacht can be harmful to Australian agriculture.
A yacht was on route to Sydney when it docked in Darwin on 14 April 2020. At the arrival inspection biosecurity officers found evidence of termite activity on board.
The vessel had spent the last 2 years in Malaysia and underwent termite treatment by a Thai commercial pest controller in September 2019.
The officers, from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, found no live termites were noted. However, evidence of damage was suspected of the exotic Coptotermes species. Further confirmation of the efficacy of the termite treatment was required to ensure the colony had been fully eradicated.
The vessel was placed on hardstand under biosecurity control. Biosecurity officers started the first of 6 weekly inspections for live termite activity in May.
Dead termites (Coptotermes gestroi) and dead ants (Pheidole parva) were found on board and a large termite nest was discovered in the engine room.
Continue reading about ship happens: ants, termites and spiders found onboard a yacht in Darwin
On 2 June, department entomologists teamed-up with National Border Surveillance staff to deploy baited (sausage and sugar syrup) ant traps on and around the vessel. The traps successfully detected live Pheidole parva specimens aboard. No ants were noted in the traps outside of the vessel.
Two live specimens of the exotic spider, Coleosoma floridanum, were also collected in the galley of the vessel.
The treatment is now complete and post treatment surveillance indicates it has been effective.
Find out more about biosecurity requirements for non-commercial vessels.
The Australian Government will not proceed with the Onshore Biosecurity Levy.
Following consultation with industry and further consideration of the impacts on industry, the Australian Government will not proceed with the Onshore Biosecurity Levy.
This decision also considered the ongoing impacts of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 on the Australian economy and the rapidly changing global trade environment.
This will not impact on the overall biosecurity budget. Australia’s biosecurity system will continue to be funded through existing arrangements.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment would like to thank the Industry Working Group and other stakeholders who provided valuable input and feedback on the proposed levy design.
Learn more about the Onshore Biosecurity Levy.
Thanks for helping us understand what you’d like to see in our e-newsletter.
We’ve asked you in our 2020 Biosecurity Matters reader survey what you think of our e-newsletter. The survey was open from 11 May 2020 to 7 June 2020. The results are now in and are looking encouraging. Thank you for your feedback.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment received feedback from 88 readers. This included people from import and export industries, government employees, academics and members of the public.
Over 77% of participants rated their overall experience with Biosecurity Matters an 8 or above out of 10.
Suggestions for topics for future editions included more news and information for importers and exporters and resources for agricultural industries to promote biosecurity.
Changes or improvements to the newsletter included highlighting seasonal biosecurity measures, more frequent editions and having a downloadable PDF.
We will be sure to take your feedback on board and will incorporate as many of your ideas as possible.
Read more about the survey and the results.