Keeping pests out of Victoria’s ports

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A new surveillance program within the Port of Melbourne and Station Pier is set to provide an early warning for introduced marine pests.

Led by Agriculture Victoria, the new initiative is providing knowledge about threats from exotic marine pests entering the state’s ports and helping to protect Victoria’s native aquatic species.

Agriculture Victoria Biosecurity Officer Paul Bodak collecting samples from a settlement array at the Port of MelbourneThe Testing the Waters Victorian Ports Marine Surveillance Pilot Program is a shared effort between Agriculture Victoria, the Port of Melbourne, Victorian Ports Corporation (Melbourne), Deakin University and EnviroDNA.

Using a combination of surveillance tools Agriculture Victoria biosecurity officers have established a program for detecting marine pests early to reduce their impact on the marine environment and port operations.

Agriculture Victoria Principal Officer for Invasive Marine Species, Dr Richard Strafford-Bell, said that as well as providing an early warning of new incursions of introduced marine pests, the surveillance program was also identifying native marine communities that exist within highly modified port environments.

“Until recently Victoria lacked a systematic surveillance program for marine pests leading to past incursions remaining undetected and having no realistic prospect of eradication,” he said.

“Marine pests are highly invasive plants and animals that can have significant impacts on Victoria’s marine industries, environment and social amenity and the most effective way of managing such pests is to prevent their introduction, so early detection is critical.”

The marine pest surveillance program is using cutting edge science and surveillance tools to detect exotic marine pests - settlement arrays, plankton tows and water samples are being used to detect fouling species and larvae in the water column.

The settlement arrays have been specially designed and manufactured for placement in the water at key sites for two months over the summer and winter periods. The aluminium arrays each have eight PVC plates which provide space for marine organisms to attach to and grow.Marine growth on a settlement plate

When the arrays are retrieved, the plates are sent to the lab for molecular analysis.

Water samples and plankton tow samples collected at the time of array retrieval are also sent to the lab.

As Australia’s busiest containerised port, with more than 3000 vessels entering each year, the Port of Melbourne is the ideal location for the surveillance equipment to be placed.

The team has also recently rolled the surveillance program out to the commercial ports of Hastings, Portland and Geelong.

Port of Melbourne Environment Manager Deanne Britt said the Port of Melbourne was behind the project, acknowledging that biosecurity, and the protection of Victoria’s marine environment, industries and social amenity, was a shared responsibility.

“We know that marine pests are often introduced via commercial shipping in either ballast water or attached to hulls of vessels and once here, they are extremely difficult to eradicate,” she said.

“Surveillance gives us a chance to detect introduced pests and work out what to do about them – early.”

The Testing the Waters Marine Pest Surveillance Program is being supported by the Victorian Government’s investment to strengthen Victoria’s biosecurity system. The project will run until mid-2022 and the results will guide the establishment of a long-term surveillance program for all of Victoria’s high-risk commercial seaports.

For information about marine pests, including how to report a suspected marine pest, visit Agriculture Victoria - Marine pests.