I visited New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries to find out how they ‘Grow and protect New Zealand’. It turns out the Kiwi’s are not only good at rugby.
New Zealand has more similarities with the Falkland Islands than you might think, and it’s not just that both country’s capitals are known for their strong winds! Like us they are a relatively small and geographically remote island nation who’s economic backbone is their primary industries. Like us, they have a lot to lose by the introduction of a new pest, disease or invasive species.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), is the organisation in charge of biosecurity, or as they like to call it ‘Growing and protecting New Zealand’.
New Zealand’s biosecurity system is widely regarded as one of the best in the world. It therefore seemed a perfect choice for an exchange programme.
After many months of organisation and planning the exchange finally took place during September and October 2015. The MPI Quarantine Officer Henk van Zyl, arrived to typical Falklands spring weather—snow and gales. I assured him that the weather would soon improve and hastily jumped on the plane before he could change his mind.
I was posted to MPI branches throughout New Zealand, which gave me an overview of all aspects of MPI’s biosecurity work, from legislation to fruit inspection!
I visited Christchurch where much of the seed and stock feed to support New Zealand’s agricultural industries enters the country. I learned how they inspect seeds from small packets, to bulk carriers containing thousands of tonnes, and visited their laboratories with state of the art microscopes and equipment for identifying plant pests and diseases.
Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations and where adrenalin junkies come from all around the world to hurl themselves from a bridge or be driven through a narrow canyon in a very fast boat. It is also one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world and attracts a huge number of walkers and photographers, it therefore provided a good place to learn about how MPI deal with biosecurity risks from tourism.
I spent much time working at the airport and I particularly enjoyed working with the detector dog teams. I was astonished to see how effective and versatile the detector dogs were. I witnessed the dogs detecting small packets of seeds, fruit, abalone and even a small flower wrapped in a tissue in a lady’s pocket!
New Zealand has had about 200 marine invasive species establish around their coast and ports, most of them (~87%) arrived as hull fouling organisms and others, in ships ballast water. As a result New Zealand has worked hard to improve their marine biosecurity, and I learned a few tricks which we can implement in the Falklands.
Opua is a small town in the Bay of Islands where many of New Zealand’s visiting or returning yachts first make landfall. Like the Falklands, it also receives many cruise ships. I learned about the biosecurity clearance procedures for yachts and cruise ships and came away with many ideas to improve our own marine biosecurity.
New Zealand is free from several of the fruit fly species which are considered most damaging to the fruit industry, and they work very hard to maintain that status. There has been several fruit fly incursions in recent years, each triggering a huge response by MPI which has so far been successful in preventing fruit flies from establishing. These incursions have cost several million dollars, but if fruit fly was to establish, the costs to the economy would be hundreds of millions of dollars.
Red-Back spiders are common in Australia and like to live in proximity to man. Vehicles make perfect homes for them and many are accidentally imported into New Zealand as hitchikers. I found one while inspecting a small boat imported from Australia!
The bug identified as New Zealand’s public enemy number one is not a venomous spider, but the interestingly named Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. These bugs, originally from Asia, have invaded the USA and have become highly invasive there. Now they are being found in goods exported from the USA and pose a risk to many countries, including the Falklands. Although they are mainly considered a fruit pest they will eat many types of plants and have shown themselves to be capable of surviving in extreme climates. They excrete a strong smell when they feel threatened and would make our earwigs look appealing by comparison should they arrive here. So be on your guard!
I learned a huge amount from the exchange and am very much looking forward to using some of what I have learned to benefit the Falkland Islands and improve our biosecurity. Although we are much smaller than New Zealand both geographically and economically, many of the issues we face are the same.
My sincere thanks go to all the people at the Ministry for Primary Industries who hosted me at their work and invited me into their homes. Thanks also to MPI for sharing information and providing me with a such a useful experience, and last but not least, my thanks go to Henk, who steered the ship while I was away and helped correct the course!