Scientists get boost to combat invasive marine pests

Work to protect New Zealand waters from an increasing number of invasive biological pests has received a funding boost to fight their spread.

Work to protect New Zealand waters from an increasing number of invasive biological pests has received a funding boost to fight their spread.

NIWA scientists have joined forces with the University of Waikato and the Cawthron Institute, as well as organisations in Australia, Canada and the US with the aim of combining expertise to develop new methods to find invasive species as soon as possible, and eradicate them where possible.

The new collaboration has been made possible with a $448,000 grant from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s new Catalyst Fund, which aims to strengthen international research collaboration.

NIWA Principal Scientist and the project leader Dr Graeme Inglis said biological invasions were a global problem that required an international approach to limiting their spread and impact.

This project would focus on three areas of research:

  • Developing more sensitive, cost-efficient tools for surveillance. Dr Inglis says new molecular approaches could enable rapid, accurate detection of multiple harmful species in seawater and could revolutionise surveillance procedures. However, the methods need thorough testing and global sharing of DNA signatures for recognised harmful species.
  • Developing innovative technologies and tactics for control and eradication. Dr Inglis says this is aimed at looking at solutions outside biological science. “We want to harvest skills and technologies from areas such as computer science or engineering to seek out the best ideas and look at developing them collaboratively.”
  • Developing better ways to evaluate social and cultural impacts from invasive marine species, particularly for indigenous communities. This would include looking at better ways to understand the impacts of invasive species on Māori, learning from similar work carried out in Canada, the US and Australia.

Dr Inglis said New Zealand had some of the best arrangements and regulations for marine biosecurity in the world, including being the only country that has an active national surveillance programme (funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries).

“The surveillance means that we are continuing to detect new incursions by species that have not been recorded before in New Zealand, but while we have management measures coming into effect at our borders, we still have only rudimentary ways of dealing with invasive marine organisms that have already got a foot-hold in New Zealand.

“We want to get to a position where we have more effective technological solutions for managing these pests. Marine biosecurity is a relatively new field so from a science perspective there is still a lot to do.”

More than 340 exotic species have been recorded from New Zealand waters, including algae, worms and bivalves. The rate of arrival has skyrocketed since the 1960s, largely due to increased global shipping trade.

Coastal cities with major shipping ports, like Auckland, Melbourne, Vancouver and San Francisco, have experienced a succession of invasions by non-native species, many of which have since become dominant components of the local marine flora and fauna.