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Quarantine – it’s more than just weeds!

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I always thought I was fairly environmentally aware, but recently I have had my eyes opened to more than the issue introducing weeds to K’gari.  When not in use, FIDO’s Land Cruiser is stored in Brisbane.  I was shocked when I went down to put stuff in it that it was crawling with ants.

FINIA members and others caring for K’gari are aware that alien ants can be more invasive and more difficult to deal with than any weeds.  Just look at the devastating impact of Yellow Crazy Ants on Christmas Island and the problems caused by the introduction of Fire Ants in South East Queensland.  It is more than a decade since Wayne Robinson first began ringing alarm bells about the impact of African big-headed ant, (aka Coastal brown ant) Pheidole megacephala, on K’gari.  His study showed that this ant is steadily invading the island and could severely impact about 300 native ant species and have devastating flow-on effects for the island’s ecology.

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Recently, on the same barge taking a team of FIDO volunteers to Fraser Island was a utility loaded with fresh turf.  Who knows what might have been in that turf?  It is likely that alien ants and/or alien earth worms and/or even soil pathogens could be carried onto the island through this gross act of stupidity.

While FINIA has long focussed on the need for wash-down facilities to prevent more weed species hitch-hiking to K’gari, we need a more visionary solution to improve the quarantine on this World Heritage island.  FINIA and others need to consider quarantine inspectors at the barge loading points and no vehicle should be allowed on to a ferry if it doesn’t carry a certificate that it meets quarantine standards.  Just washing down vehicles prior to going on to the island isn’t enough, especially if there is nobody to check that a vehicle is clean.

The public now knows that they and their luggage will be checked by Quarantine officers when arriving in Australia.

For 20 years, I ran safaris to the Kimberley out of Darwin and couldn’t get across the Western Australia border near Kununurra without the most rigorous quarantine inspections.  After the expensive lesson of having cases of fruit confiscated on my first time fronting up, I learnt to stop for smoko and let the safarists eat up any remaining fruit before moving up to the check point.  The inspections were rigorous and people had to factor that into their travel.  I had to open up every container carrying fresh food.  Even cardboard cartons carrying fruit were confiscated (and replaced) to ensure that fruit fly didn’t enter the state.

The public know what is required of quarantine and understand its importance.  We just need to work out how to introduce an inspection system for which those wanting to take vehicles onto the island would pay for.  It could be a source of employment.  It may save K’gari some more serious environmental disasters in the future.  It is time for FINIA to revisit the policy.

Article contributed by John Sinclair AO, FIDO

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