The geographic location of the Northern Territory places it firmly in the frontline of Australian biosecurity. With an area the size of France, Spain and Italy combined to protect, engaging the community in helping to watch out for the entry of exotic diseases, pests or weeds, and the spread of some existing ones, is essential.
In addition, with a flood of backpackers and grey nomads arriving in the Territory during the dry season, there is an increased threat of interstate travellers inadvertently bringing infested plant material or contaminated clothing or equipment.
As a result, every year during the dry season biosecurity staff from the invasive animal and plant teams in the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts & Sport and the animal, aquatic and plant biosecurity teams in Department of Resources (DoR), become involved with a series of annual regional shows that occur from Darwin to Alice Springs.
This year, for the first time biosecurity staff from both departments combined forces under a single banner of ‘Stop the Spread’. To date, this message has been taken to three shows at Fred’s Pass in rural Darwin, the Darwin Botanic Gardens’ ‘Garden Extravaganza’ and to Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The Fred’s Pass show featured the use of a clinic staffed by departmental specialists in entomology, plant pathology and weeds. Here farmers, growers and the general public could bring in their carefully bagged specimens of unknown plants with unusual spots, bugs or weeds to be identified.
This provided stand staff with the opportunity to discuss these problems, look for possible exotic species and hand out pens and fridge magnets with the 1800 hotline and other call numbers for reporting unusual animal or plant diseases, or pests and weeds. It is hoped that this will boost reporting and increase the likelihood of early detection.
During the two shows in Darwin at least one new detection of a declared weed species was made during discussions with visitors to the displays.
The ‘Stop the Spread’ display featured the key message: Be Alert… stop the spread – Report Suspect Pests, Diseases and Weeds. A series of posters featured different areas of biosecurity, with pictures of some key exotic diseases, pests or weeds to help raise awareness amongst visitors.
During the ‘Garden Extravaganza’ show at the Darwin botanic gardens it was particularly noticeable that many of the stand’s visitors were from interstate. This also provided an opportunity to distribute Interstate Traveller’s Guides and to highlight the need for travellers not to bring fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers or plants when entering the Territory.
Amongst the material handed out during the shows were Farm Biosecurity* glass wipes and a variety of pamphlets on various diseases, pests and weeds, interstate travel, etc.
The shows have been a great opportunity for biosecurity staff from across Northern Territory departments to work together in collaboration with technical experts. We hope they also boosted public awareness and our ability to increase support from the public for detecting exotic organisms if and when they enter the Territory.
The assistance of the DoR media team in arranging site, preparing posters and laying out stands are gratefully acknowledged.
Authors: Helen Cribb, Sue Fitzpatrick, Brian Thistleton, Barry Conde and Andrew Tomkins, Department of Resources; Kathryn Carter, Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts & Sport.