Alien Plants and Animals Could Hitchike to Olympics

SYDNEY, Australia, September 4, 2000 (ENS) - Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service staff are working at airports and seaports and at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Sydney, to stop exotic pests and diseases from entering Australia in connection with the 2000 Olympic Games opening in Sydney September 15.

Land snails that can grow to the size of footballs, cane toads, agricultural weeds with claws - these are only some of the plant and animal aliens that could invade Australia have officials worried about the country's multi-billion agricultural and fisheries export trade.

People travelling to Australia for the Olympics should be aware that live animals, plants and seeds may not be taken into the country.

Olympic horses are now in strict quarantine in Sydney to prevent the spread of diseases and alien plant seeds. Most of the horses that will participate in Olympic equestrian events flew to Australia between August 21 and 25 on five Olympics sponsored charter flights and were transported directly to the Sydney International Equestrian Centre. Quarantine ends September 8.

Stable waste will be collected for deep burial at the Wallgrove Rd. Waste Centre in order to manage the risk of weed seeds entering Australia in the gut of an imported horse. A total of five site surveys for weeds will be conducted through the autumn of 2002.

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Giant African snail (Photo courtesy AQIS)
Alien animals, insects, weeds, fishes and crustaceans can hitchhike into Australia via tourist's bags, in ships' ballast water, through the postal system, and via air and sea cargo, according to Agricultural Western Australia's Agriculture Protection Program executive director Rob Delane.

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) has joined forces with Agricultural Western Australia (AGWEST) and Fisheries Western Australia to present an exhibition of their work, "Silent Invaders," which opened at the Western Australia Museum at Geraldton today.

Fisheries Western Australia's Geraldton regional manager Paul Fitzpatrick said, "There are about 250 introduced marine species in Australia and 92 of these are found in Western Australia. Eradicating them is extremely difficult and success will depend upon early detection and ongoing monitoring."

AQIS and the shipping industry are investigating methods to reduce the risk posed by the 150 million tons of ballast water emptied into Western Australia waters by 10,000 international ships each year. A further 34 million tonnes of ballast water is moved around Australia by coastal shipping.

The black striped mussel is a problem that has Australian officials on the alert. It has established itself in Fiji, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and some other southeast Asian countries. In India, the mussel is a major pest where it fouls ships' hulls, including water inlet and outlet pipes, as well as all other hard substrates in the harbours.

AQIS regional manager Dr. Jeroen den Hollander said the emergence of this mussel pest is costly to control. "An outbreak of the serious pest black striped mussel in the Port of Darwin in late 1998 cost A$2 million to eradicate," he said.

"The eradication process was complicated. It took more than a month, involved 250 personnel from Commonwealth, State and Northern Territory organisations and included the use of more than 100 tons of chlorine and almost 10 tons of copper sulfate," he explained.

The Giant African snail is an invader of great concern to Australian authorities. A cannibalistic and hermaphroditic snail found in Africa and southeast Asia, they can grow to the size of footballs but are generally about 10 centimeters (four inches) when intercepted by AQIS on sea cargo at Fremantle wharf.

Giant African snails lay up to 1,200 eggs each year, representing a major threat to horticultural industries. The snail eats large amounts of plant material. While it can eat more than 500 different kinds of plants, it has a preference for the same foods people like - breadfruit, cassava, cocoa, papaya, peanut, rubber and most species of beans and peas.

The snail can carry parasitic human diseases, according to AQIS. The parasites are passed to humans who eat raw or improperly cooked snails or freshwater prawns. "It is advisable to wash your hands after touching the snail," AQIS suggests.

Tourists can unintentionally import the destructive species. In July, a woman who had been holidaying in Malaysia was stunned when an AQIS officer opened her bag at Perth International Airport and found a live Giant African snail in her clothes. She had been collecting shells from a beach and did not realise something was still living inside one of the shells.

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Devil's claw (Photo courtesy Seedpods.com)
Officials are also on the lookout for the Purpleflower devil's claw weed has woody fruit with two long spines, which can hook into the skin, injuring livestock. The spines can get caught in the fleece of sheep and decrease the value of wool. As a competitive weed, the plant has the potential to cause major problems in vegetable and cotton crops.

The plant originated in the United States and had now naturalised in the states of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. It has not yet become established in Western Australia.

Freshwater invaders that compete with native fishes for habitat and food, prey upon them and spread diseases to them include swordtails, tilapia, mosquito fish, and yabbies.

It will be business as usual for commercial clients of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service in New South Wales during the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Warren Truss said last week.

"In the busy period of September 4 to 29 to help clients, the AQIS NSW head office at Rosebery will be open for extended hours each day for entry processing and permit issuing. Additional staff are being brought into Sydney from other areas of Australia to cope with the operational challenges created by the Games, ensuring that it will be business as usual for AQIS," Truss said.

AQIS has an array of tools to catch anyone trying to smuggle plant and animal items into Australia, including detector dogs and state of the art X-ray equipment.