National award for WA marine biosecurity

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Fremantle Ports has been involved in a partnership between WA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and port authorities to keep marine pests at bay since the project was piloted in 2010.

The collaborative and innovative project, which won a State Golden Gecko Award for Environmental Excellence in October last year, has now won an Australian Biosecurity Award.

Western Australia’s marine biosecurity and surveillance system has been singled out on the national stage for a groundbreaking approach to the early detection and identification of marine pests.

The McGowan Government has commended the efforts of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and Western Australia port authorities after receiving the Collaborative Industry/Government award at the Australian Biosecurity Awards in Canberra last night.

The awards showcase work to minimise the risk of exotic pests and diseases entering Australia, helping to protect Australia’s $60 billion agriculture industries, environment, native flora and fauna, tourism industries and lifestyle.

Western Australia’s State-Wide Array Surveillance Program (SWASP) was recognised for its innovative early warning system to detect and respond quickly to a potential marine pest incursion.

The surveillance system is a series of settlement arrays, which are underwater marine growth collection devices. 

The arrays are deployed at 11 State and private ports along the WA coast to collect DNA samples of marine animals.

DPIRD marine scientists collect and test DNA twice a year using Next Generation Sequencing. This allows the department to quickly and accurately identify any marine pests, and capture other information on the marine environment in the port.

The collaboration between DPIRD and WA ports has heightened awareness among port users of the risks posed by exotic marine pests, and that biosecurity is a shared responsibility.

Comments attributed to Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly:

“I congratulate the department and WA port authorities on this innovative program which delivers a significantly cheaper, more accurate and easier approach to detect and identify introduced marine pests.

“Earlier surveillance efforts relied on physical (morphological) identification of marine life. Some organisms would have to be sent to expert taxonomists around the world for specialist identification, and this process could take months.

“Being able to quickly and accurately identify a marine pest, means that steps can be taken to minimise impact on the State’s valuable commercial and recreational fisheries.”

Comments attributed to Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan:

“In 2017-18, there were more than 9,600 vessels visits and 119 cruise ships stopping at WA ports. This puts our ports on the front line of defence to help protect our State from unwanted pests and diseases.

“Driving greater awareness and better education of biosecurity issues by port users both nationally and internationally is vital to protect both our marine and agricultural environments.

“The SWASP sets a new benchmark for marine biosecurity, and this national award is wonderful recognition of the hard work and co-operation between our ports and the department to make biosecurity a priority.”