Biosecurity threats to New Zealand need addressing

I work near Christchurch Airport. Every day I see aircraft of all sizes taking off and landing at the airport. Some are small regional aircraft with seating for up 68-70; whilst the largest is the Airbus A-380, capable of carrying 500 people and is the largest passenger aircraft in the world. With every aircraft movement tonnes of luggage and goods are moved as well. The vast majority is clean, but what about the portion that is not? And more importantly how does New Zealand deal with it?

There are two major types of entry port in New Zealand. Lacking a land border, all inbound/outbound traffic in New Zealand arrive and departs via ship or aircraft. One might have thought that the absence of a land border and thousands of kilometres of sea water would work in our favour. In a past time that might have been true, but with tens of thousands of people flying into and out of New Zealand each day and ships carrying tens of thousands of tons of cargo arriving, departing daily, that is simply not the case any longer. So, how do our marine and airports handle these movements?

Marine ports of entry have become substantially busier as larger container ships and bulk carriers are constructed, enabling larger volumes of goods to be at sea at a given time. Some ports such as Nelson are large handlers of timber, whilst others such as Lyttelton handle coal. Several handle freight movements.

I am off the belief that each major container port should have a facility on site where all containers are physically inspected for threats – exotic/harmful/invasive creatures. The fee for the containers being off/loaded should include a portion to cover operating costs. There should not be any exception with regards to which containers go through the facility or not.

However it is before a ship enters a New Zealand Port that challenges often arise. First and foremost, has the ballast water been emptied out to sea before the ship entered New Zealand waters? This is necessary to stop unwanted aquatic pests, such as weeds and marine life from entering New Zealand waters, particularly if they are of an invasive/destructive nature in the marine environment.

Aircraft arriving from overseas are the other major conduit for unwanted organisms reaching New Zealand. Air New Zealand and other airlines fly into and out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch from out of Asia, north America, south America, Africa, Europe and elsewhere daily. They carry not only personal luggage, but also transport orders for flowers, seafood products such as lobsters and oysters.

In 2003, a fire ant outbreak was detected at Auckland International Airport, where nests consistent with this species of ant were found on the grass median strip’s between the runways and the tarmac. Most likely, the ants stowed away in luggage that had come from Australia, where the ants are established or from the America’s which is their traditional range. The fire ant is capable of decimating native plants and bird species, as well has having a bite which causes severe pain in humans. In this case the ants were contained and destroyed.

Two years earlier, the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak that ravaged Britain, had caused airlines to spray the exterior of their aircraft, require passengers to declare their movements. The outbreak was caused by a highly contagious disease that had afflicted huge numbers of British livestock, leading to massive culling all over the country, quarantining of huge stretches of British countryside and a range of protective measures that had to be applied to anyone visiting a farm. A similar outbreak here in New Zealand today would devastate one of our biggest export earners and cause tens of thousands of job losses.

More recently Asian Gypsy Moths have required Biosecurity New Zealand to conduct spraying operations to protect our horticulture. The Asian Gypsy Moth poses a threat to viticulture and horticultural operations that earn New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

I would happily see more money invested in the New Zealand Customs at the border, to protect me, my country and its superb natural environment. I would happily see more money invested in it so that those wanting to come here and contribute to New Zealand are able to afford the same quality of life as those living here. I would happily see more invested because it is a small and well spent price to pay for being a New Zealander in New Zealand.

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