Biosecurity Matters, Edition 1, 2017

​​​Biosecurity Matters

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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.

Throw your prawns on the BBQ, not in our waters

Using uncooked prawns as bait can spread exotic white spot disease.

Us Aussies love throwing some prawns on the BBQ. But there is one place we definitely can’t throw our prawns—and that is into our rivers, lakes and oceans.

This is the latest biosecurity message aimed at recreational fishers and crabbers to help keep our waterways free from unwanted disease.

In particular, this can help keep out exotic diseases such as white spot disease, which is a highly contagious virus of crustaceans. White spot disease has been detected on prawn farms located on the Logan River in South East Queensland, and is subject to an extensive eradication program.

Some raw prawns we buy to eat from retailers can carry this disease, and while it is harmless to humans, it can destroy wild and farmed prawn populations.

Using raw prawns for bait is one possible pathway for this disease to get into our river systems and onto prawn farms—and is why raw prawns for human consumption should never be used as bait.

Such a simple act can have serious and far-reaching consequences.

Next time you are out to catch the big one, don’t come with the raw prawn! You will be playing a vital role in our country’s biosecurity.

Find out more at

Cluster fences keeping sheep safe from wild dogs

A wild dog cluster fence is erected to protect sheep in south west Qld. (Image courtesy of South West NRM).

Sheep farming communities in western Queensland are dealing with the threat of increasingly aggressive wild dog attacks through an innovative approach known as “cluster fencing”.

The clusters, which involve erecting wild dog-proof fences around several neighbouring farms, have been recently installed in areas such as Cunnamulla, Goondiwindi, Quilpie, Longreach, Barcaldine and Winton.

Merweh shire, which neighbours Cunnamulla, estimates that 10,000 wild dogs are currently active in that region alone. The effect on sheep and lambs has been significant, with farmers estimating losses of 10% to their overall stock.

The increase in wild dog attacks is believed to be due to dingoes interbreeding with domestic dogs in large numbers – commonly having two litters a year, or about seven puppies per female dog.

Fences are just one part of the response to the wild dog threat, which is also being addressed by baiting, trapping and shooting under the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative program.

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The Australian Government provided $10 million towards the Initiative in 2015-16 for fencing and on-ground wild dog management. A further $2 million has been earmarked for 2017.

This funding has resulted in 18 new “cluster” fences built in Queensland’s central west, where 1823km of fencing will protect 95 properties. Sheep numbers across the 18 clusters is expected to rise from 270,925 to 509,372, as a result of this barrier to the wild dog threat.

Cluster fences are also being constructed in the Barcoo, Maranoa, Murweh, Paroo and Quilpie shires with 1,908 kilometres of fencing to protect 1,885,690 hectares of agricultural land. The project is working with 96 landholders across 116 rural properties in some of the worst affected areas.

The department’s First Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Division, Ian Thompson, said that cluster fencing was in high demand in areas under constant threat of wild dog attacks.

“While we are still measuring their impact, we are hearing from sheep producers in western Queensland who are noticing improved lambing rates once the cluster fences are erected,” Mr Thompson said.

Borers hitch a ride to Australia inside lychee plants

Red coffee borer was discovered inside a batch of 300 lychee plants from Taiwan.

A dangerous borer that devastates food crops nearly made it to Australia in the New Year inside lychee plants, but was thwarted by our vigilant team at the Mickleham Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) centre near Melbourne airport.

The red coffee borer, a pest found across Asia, was discovered inside a batch of 300 lychee plants from Taiwan.

A team of horticulturalists and plant pathologists who inspected the new arrivals became suspicious when they noticed significant borer holes and infestation on the stems and leaves. Live mites and fungi were also found on the lychee plants.

After forwarding specimens to the department’s entomology team, the pest was identified as red coffee borer.

This voracious stem borer from Asia feeds on a range of plants including grapes, citrus, apple, coffee, avocado, walnut and cotton. If it had entered the country, the consequences for Australian agriculture would have been devastating.

Due to this serious detection, the importer had two options – destroy all 300 plants, or export them out of Australia at their expense.

On 11 January 2017, all plants were destroyed as they didn’t meet importing conditions.

The outstanding detection work of the department’s biosecurity officers, horticulturalists and plant pathologists ensured this pest was unable to cross the border, preventing a significant outbreak in Australia.

Indigenous rangers dedicated to stopping exotic pests

Rick Hawe (left) presents the Biosecurity Commendation award to Mapoon Shire Council CEO Leon Yeatman.

Indigenous rangers in far north Queensland recently received a Biosecurity Commendation award from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for their valuable work in keeping a Top Watch for pests and diseases entering through our northern gateway.

The Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers, based in western Cape York Peninsula, play a vital role in biosecurity work including vector monitoring, marine debris surveillance and assisting departmental scientists and officers gain access to traditional lands.

Numerous Indigenous ranger groups across northern Australia undertake a variety of biosecurity work on behalf of the department, which allows the department to extend its biosecurity reach across remote areas of our northern border.

Rick Hawe, Assistant Secretary, Inspection Services Group, said the Mapoon Shire Council’s Land and Sea Rangers were deserving recipients of the award.

“Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers are constantly striving towards achieving biosecurity excellence, ensuring their land and people within the Mapoon community are safeguarded from exotic pests and diseases,” Mr Hawe said.

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“Their vigilance in performing a variety of biosecurity activities in conjunction with, and on behalf of, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has been of a high standard.

“Their dedication is based upon a solid professional relationship between the ranger group and our department over a sustained period.”

A recent example of the ranger group’s commitment was a request from Queensland Health to undertake additional mosquito vector surveillance at various locations within the Mapoon Community.

“The Mapoon rangers were extremely obliging in assisting with the preparation of the trapping exercise, which included community engagement. Their dedicated team of rangers identified a number of areas with a high mosquito population and assisted with the set up and removal of the traps,” Mr Hawe said.

Leon Yeatman, Chief Executive Officer for the Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council, added:  “The Ranger team in Mapoon are very supportive of biosecurity initiatives and we are proud that our biosecurity work has been recognised by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

“The Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council is keen to see that any partnership arrangements with the department can be enhanced to ensure our community remains free from exotic pests and diseases.”

A red hot idea to save Christmas Island’s famous red crabs

Christmas Island red crabs are now safer from yellow crazy ants.

Every year tourists travel to Christmas Island to see the red crabs’ annual migration, where up to 40 million crabs make the journey from the forest to the sea to mate. In recent years though, super colonies of yellow crazy ants have threatened the crabs.

With around one-third of the island’s crab population being killed by ants over the last 20 years, something had to be done. After years of research La Trobe University and Parks Australia discovered that using a tiny Malaysian micro-wasp as an indirect biological control agent was the answer.

Studies have shown that the micro-wasp (Tachardiaephagus somervilli) will indirectly control the crazy ant super colonies by attacking the introduced yellow lac scale, which supply honey dew, a key food resource for ant super colony formation. Previously the only way to stop crazy ants wiping out Christmas Island’s native wildlife was to use poison bait. However this has proved to only be a short term solution.

Micro-wasps are already used for biological control in mainland Australia, and this approach is fairly common. Due to a range of factors, the researchers proposed a direct release of this species and, in collaboration with the Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), developed a protocol to ensure this could be achieved safely. Over a year ago the department carried out a risk analysis and approved the application to import and directly release the micro-wasps on Christmas Island.

A departmental entomologist travelled to Malaysia in September 2016 to undertake a verification visit of the micro-wasp rearing facility and protocols at FRIM. In December 2016, a departmental entomologist travelled back to Malaysia to inspect and supervise the import of the first consignment of micro-wasps to Christmas Island via Perth.

Biosecurity staff in Perth were prepared for the arrival and holding of the wasps overnight, prior to their onward journey to Christmas Island. The wasps were then released into a rearing facility on Christmas Island, with the first offspring emerging on 29 December 2016.

The wasps will be released onto the island during the next 3-6 months, and will hopefully establish and reduce scale insect populations, improving the outlook for the red crab and helping rebalance the island’s fragile ecology.

Border Finds – Thinking of buying terrariums online?

This terrarium was intercepted at the Sydney Airport mail centre, as it contained shrimp eggs that carry diseases exotic to Australia.

When gift shopping online, make sure your purchase doesn’t provide an unwelcome surprise on arrival in Australia.

One popular gift idea over the recent holiday season has been self-sustaining terrariums. Biosecurity officers at the Sydney Gateway Facility have intercepted twelve terrariums since October 2016.

One particular type of terrarium intercepted - The Terrasphere Zero - is marketed as a water-based terrarium that cleans and feeds itself, and can last for years with very little maintenance. Each terrarium contains live moss balls, fertiliser, food, sand, brine shrimp eggs (which are often marketed as ‘sea monkeys’) and wood.

When the terrarium’s components are combined, this creates the environment required for the brine shrimp eggs to hatch after a few days. Brine shrimp eggs may carry a range of fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases exotic to Australia. For this reason, current import conditions require eggs to be dried, washed, and sterilised in a chemical solution prior to arrival. This addresses the biosecurity risk and the chance of disease transmission to native animals.

After being intercepted by our biosecurity officers, the prohibited materials were destroyed.

It’s important to be biosecurity aware when you shop online. For a list of things that can’t be posted to Australia, visit Bringing or mailing goods to Australia.

If you’re sending or bringing gifts or souvenirs to Australia, you can check what to avoid, what may require treatment, and what we suggest as a safe option.

Continue reading about border Finds

Border Finds – Nasty surprises coming out of the woodwork

Biosecurity officers recently had to leap into action when Conifer Auger Beetle (Sinoxylon conigerum) was detected in a consignment of children’s toys and furniture imported from Vietnam.

The detection was reported to the Museum of Victoria by a member of the public, and a sample was then provided to the department’s Operational Science Services, who confirmed the identity of the pest. A traceback was initiated for the goods that had already been sold, and the importer was directed to hold all remaining unsold stock.

It was then discovered that the goods had been onsold through a third party retailer to childcare centres in five different states. While the retailer’s client list and stock numbers were being confirmed, a further four clients came forward reporting damaged goods. A total of about 300 goods had been sold, with 230 items remaining in retail stores and warehouses.

Because of the number of detections and the size of the client list, the department issued recommendations for a targeted public recall of all remaining stock.

The importer opted to have all stock returned to their Melbourne warehouse for verification and mandatory treatment. The goods were treated using cold storage before being released back to the importer, and the overseas fumigator was suspended.

Conifer Auger Beetles attack the sapwood of hardwoods, green or seasoned timber and freshly cut trees. They can attack almost any woody plant, and can cause significant damage to timber items that are ineffectively treated for timber pests.

Timber pest activity is not always obvious and may not be seen until long after an item has been imported. Any signs of pest activity in imported timber products must be reported to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as soon as possible.


Conifer Auger Beetle damage to children’s furniture

Have Your Say


The Department is currently seeking feedback from:

  • Commercial vessel operators arriving in Australian ports – join our voluntary biofouling survey and get a free dive survey report for your vessel.
  • Recreational boat owners – join our short online survey about biofouling and help keep Australia’s waters healthy.
  • Government, industry and the general publichave your say on our review of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB) and our national biosecurity system. Let us know what works, what doesn’t and what could be done better. Submissions close 5pm (AEDT) 27 February 2017.
  • General public and interested groups – give us your views on the implementation and effectiveness of the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA) in the five years since its commencement.
  • Government, industry, scientific community and the general public – make a submission by 14 March 2017 on the Draft group pest risk analysis for thrips and tospoviruses on fresh fruit, vegetable, cut-flower and foliage imports. For more, see the departmental media release: Improved approach for analysing biosecurity risks

See the latest Import industry advice notices or Export industry and market access notices.