Posted on 19-1-2003
Show NZMAF Ethics
By John Taylor, ABC, Oct01
Ed: Compare the below with NZ spray campaign agains Painted
Apple moth -
blanket spray over everybody and everything in a substantial
Auckland City, no prior consent from citizens requested or given,
in sight and no involvement of public in the campaign.
The most audacious exotic pest eradication campaign ever seen
Australia has begun. Six months after the red imported fire
(Solenopsis invicta) was discovered in Brisbane, a $123 million
effort has commenced to wipe the species out from our island
No other country has eradicated fire ants. The insect has lived
up to its
name - "invicta" translating from Latin as "not having been
But Queensland's Primary Industries Minister Henry Palaszczuk
authorities have no choice but to try. To do nothing invites
"Uncontrolled, the ant could spread up to 600,000 square kilometres
the next 30 years and that would then put it in the backyards
and Melbourne, as well as into our major agricultural centres,"
Palaszczuk says. And the projected cost to rural industry of
fire ants is enormous. "The Australian Bureau of Agriculture
Economics has estimated these losses could be more than $6.7
the next 30 years,” Palaszczuk says. “In terms of agriculture,
ant has the ability to inflict damage to livestock and crops,
if it is
left unchecked. It could force a change, not only what we grow,
we grow it."
FIRE ANTS HISTORY
Fire ants were first discovered in Brisbane in February this
came to the attention of authorities after two reports arrived
same day from separate parts of Brisbane. One was from Fisherman
the site of container facilities at the mouth of the Brisbane
workman had been bitten by ants, and a sample was sent to the
other incident involved a keen gardener at suburban Richlands
south-west Brisbane, who was having problems with ants and gave
to local DPI officers.
The exotic pest had never before been identified in Australia,
arrival was alarming. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries
(DPI) says last year in the United States, the State of Texas
least $US580 million battling the exotic pest.
Keith McCubbin, director of the Queensland Fire Ant Control
believes the pest broke through quarantine into Queensland on
separate occasions. “[This seems to be the case] because we
slightly different strain in the Fisherman Islands area than
we have in
the western suburbs,” he said. "The one in the eastern suburbs
mouth of the river has come from north America, and DNA and
analysis of the one in the western suburbs suggests it came
America. That's two separate incursions." But what was even
was the realisation that fire ants had been in Australia for
of their discovery. Mr McCubbin says the best guess has the
arriving between three and five years ago. "We're working on
evidence that it could have been 3-5 years," he says. "However
problem is we don't know how the Fire Ant operates under Australian
conditions, or even Queensland conditions come to that." "If
here for three to five years and it's only spread to the areas
has then maybe it's not as virulent, if I could use that term,
other things,” he said. “It's not spreading as fast as you might
thought it would for whatever reason. The only other thing is
that it may
not have been here as long. “Though the advice we're getting
now, and we
don't know enough about it, and we've got to err on the side
that if we don't do something now it could well take off."
FIRE ANTS EXPLAINED
To look at, fire ants are innocuous but appearances are deceptive.
breed and spread rapidly. They have a painful sting that results
pustule and intense itching, which can persist for more than
a week. Some
people are allergic to the sting and in rare cases, can die.
For the rest
of us, the threat of being stung is enough to avoid areas where
are. Imagine not allowing children to play in their own back
not being able to have a picnic, or lounge about in a park,
or play sport
on the local oval.
That is already happening in parts of Brisbane. "Some backyards
fire ant mound every square metre," Mr McCubbin says. "I know
property where the kids have had to drag the trampoline up to
steps, and jump from the steps onto the trampoline then back
on the steps
again. that's the only enjoyment they have of the backyard because
fire ant was that bad." They are also a threat to infrastructure.
ants are attracted to electrical systems in equipment as varied
computers, swimming pool pumps, cars, and washing machines.
cause short circuits and fires. Fire ants also have a significant
environmental impact. They are aggressive and kill frogs, lizards,
small mammals. Then there is the impact on agriculture. The
DPI says they
damage seeds, and crops, mounds interfere with equipment, they
labour and they damage irrigation equipment.
Fire ants have been discovered in 730 sites in Brisbane's south-east
corner. The sites are largely confined to two areas - Brisbane's
south-west suburbs, and Fisherman Islands (the site of container
facilities) at the mouth of the Brisbane River.
The confinement of outbreaks gives authorities hope the pest
be eradicated. All governments - federal, state and territory
contributed funds to the $123 million fire ant eradication
campaign.Around 35,000 hectares in Brisbane will be treated
with a bait
made of two chemicals, whether there is a visible fire ant nest
More than 500 people are working on the national fire ant eradication
campaign. Over 400 officers are designated field workers, applying
containing the two chemicals S-methoprene and pyriproxyfen.
Each property in the treatment zone will be treated four times
for three years. There are three methods of application - on
vehicle based for the more rural residential and industrial
blocks with a
machine driven spreader, and aerial, for large open spaces (not
residential areas). Authorities say the chemicals are environmentally
friendly, low toxic, and break down very quickly in the environment.
are insect growth regulators - working by preventing ant larvae
developing into adults. Mr McCubbin says on the face of it,
the fire ants
should be easy to eradicate. They respond well to baits, and
are effective. "The real difficulty is... our ability to put
the bait in
all areas of Brisbane that need to be baited."
Current indications are perhaps 1 per cent of affected homeowners
not allow the baits to be placed on their properties. Homeowners
apparently have the right to deny treatment of their land, if
"genuine reasons". Steam treatment is an alternative option,
but not as
effectiveBut even 1 per cent of homeowners equals 1,000
properties. It's enough to sink the eradication campaign or
significant resources. Officers would be required to make frequent
regular assessments of non-baited properties. An added difficulty
it can take up to six months before a fire ant nest becomes
the eye. Homeowners that deny baiting of their properties will
to considerable lobbying from the DPI. <bold>"We're very
conscious that a
person's home is their castle as well and we need to respect
However people need to appreciate this is one of the worst ecological
disasters ever to happen in Australia. And it's happened here
Brisbane," Mr McCubbin says. "If we don't get rid of it now,
really have to do the job properly to do that, we're going to
live with this forever. We can do it, provided we get into everybody's
back yard and put the bait down. There should be no other reasons
Mr Palaszczuk says the baits will no have no impact on people,
vegetation, or animals. Dogs and people would apparently have
their own body weight to even have a chance at being sick. Given
grains of bait are spread per square metre, making a meal would
work. But other insects and ants will die. It is a price Mr
argues has to be paid. The Wildlife Preservation Society of
approves of the control program. Director Jan Oliver is taking
pragmatic approach. "We recognise that the imported fire ants
enormous risk to Australia's wildlife unless they are controlled
she says. "Brisbane's wildlife may have to be sacrificed to
save the rest
Mr McCubbin says already the fire ant has removed some fauna
in Brisbane. "What we've seen is the other ants, the native
native cockroaches and the skink lizards." Baiting will clear
and many insects from entire Brisbane suburbs. But so will fire
Once fire ants are gone and baiting has finished, authorities
natural balance will be restored. <bold>Mr McCubbin says
team has begun cataloguing rare and endangered species and is
breeding programs so that when baiting is finished they can
be put back
into the environment.
Baiting though is only a part of the eradication campaign. Surveillance
buffer zones have been identified five, 10 and 15 kilometres
infested areas. For the next three years ground surveillance
carried out in the entire five kilometre buffer zone. Random
will take place in the other zones. The campaign has constant
and surveillance to check the baits are eradicating fire ants.
The fire ant treatment phase should be completed by June 2004.
monitoring and validation work until June 2006 - when we should
the "invincibles" are as tough as feared. Authorities are upbeat.
McCubbin gives good odds for success. "Advice we've had from
scientists who came out here to help us develop the program
is that using
the program we've pulled together we have greater than 80 per
probability of eradicating this ant. Which is very good."