State’s quarantine risk

Prof Jonathan Majer in his lab at Curtin University.  The story is about the drop in quarantine measures and the biotential danger for WA.
Prof Jonathan Majer in his lab at Curtin University. The story is about the drop in quarantine measures and the biotential danger for WA.

Professor of invertebrate conservation Jonathan Majer said cutbacks in quarantine measures caused by rising costs and salaries had put WA at risk.

‘We should bear in mind that just one miniscule insect or mite, harmless as it may appear, may well have capacity to reduce production of crops or livestock to the tune of millions of dollars per year,’ Prof Majer said.

‘For this reason, all expenditure on quarantine and surveillance is a good investment.’

Prof Majer said the Canning area was particularly vulnerable because it was close to the river and many homes have irrigated gardens.

‘Many organisms that are introduced come from moister climates and often die out in Australia due to the harsh, dry climate,’ he said. ‘Near the river, this is not necessarily the case, meaning that introduced organisms have a better chance of establishing here.’

Prof Majer said due to cutbacks, organisms were able to get in by any possible means, such as airports, freight and even blowing in on the wind.

‘Constant threats of entry by some of these pests mean that sometimes they do manage to cross our boundaries and some go on to establish, with terrible consequences,’ he said.

Prof Majer said the potential for a biosecurity disaster was increased as states gradually wound down identification services.

‘In Queensland, an ant was brought in on several occasions in the ’90s, but it was thought to be a native species,’ he said.

He said the CSIRO in Canberra identified it as the fire ant in the late ’90s.

‘Originally from South America, it was well established in several areas near Brisbane and was causing a severe nuisance,’ he said.

‘A taskforce was set up to contain the outbreak and millions have been spent on this. It has still not been eradicated and new outbreaks still occur.’

Prof Majer said the ant was a health risk because of its sting, and there were also economic implications due to the cost of control.

He said it also affected the environment by displacing beneficial native species, and could potentially affect crops and the ability to export them.