Marine pests

Introduced marine pests are species moved to an area outside their natural range, generally by human activities, and that threaten the environment, human health or economic values.

Marine pests are introduced to Australian waters and translocated inside our waters by a variety of means; including ballast water discharged by commercial shipping, bio-fouling on hulls and inside internal seawater pipes of commercial and recreational vessels, aquaculture operations (accidentally and intentionally), aquarium imports, as well as marine debris and ocean currents.

Australian Government funding

Some of the projects funded to date include:

  • Antifouling performance standards for the Maritime industry: Development of a framework for assessment, approval and relevance of effective products
    Biofouling of vessels, marine equipment, and structures is recognised as an important vector for introduced marine pests. This report develops antifouling performance standards and proposes a four component framework for ensuring that vessels moving between coastal water zones have applied and maintained effective antifouling prevention systems on their underwater hulls.
  • Feasibility study for genetic control of Caulerpa in SA and NSW
    Caulerpa taxifolia is an invasive marine alga that forms extensive meadows, dominating shallow coastal habitats, displacing native species and causing dramatic declines in local biodiversity. This project was a pilot study to assess the feasibility of using genetic techniques to develop and deliver a species-specific, small molecule toxin into invasive Caulerpa taxifolia colonies. The feasibly of this approach, as well as the time and resources required to make it operational in the field have been determined
  • Genetic Markers for Determining New Zealand Screwshell Distribution
    The New Zealand Screwshell has adapted well to Australian coastal conditions. This species forms dense populations that have potential to out-compete native species, as well as alter sediment structure. The aim of this project was to develop genetic tools to identify NZ Screwshell larvae in plankton and benthic samples. This technology is helping to provide information about the life history of this species and how it might be transported around Australia's coastline.
  • Empirical Validation - Stage I: Small Vessel Translocation of Key Threatening Species - Asterias amurensis
    This project quantifies the coastal translocation of the Northern Pacific seastar, Asterias amurensis, by fishing and recreational vessels, as well as by aquaculture equipment from their main population centers in the southeast of Australia to other currently uninfected localities. This information is designed to assist in future control and management strategies for this pest species.
  • Empirical Validation - Stage II: Small Vessel Translocation of Key Threatening Species - Asterias amurensis and Undaria pinnatifida
    As part of this project a gene probe for Undaria pinnatifida is being developed that can be applied to plankton and hull fouling samples to determine presence or absence. Although this stage of the project essentially focuses on Undaria pinnatifida, the work undertaken on Asterias amurensis in Stage I is being continued. This information will be used to quantify the translocation potential of various internal and external spaces and surfaces on fishing vessels, recreational vessels and aquaculture equipment. This information will then be used to inform an Infection Modes and Effects Analysis which can then be applied to the development of bio-invasion and risk assessment strategies.
  • Evaluation of National Control Plan Management Options for the Northern Pacific Seastar (PDF - 8.52 MB) 
    This project aims to develop a software model that can be used to determine optimal control and management strategies for this introduced species. The project is expected to deliver a report detailing estimated costs and benefits of management and control options for the NPS.
  • National Priority Pests — Part II: Ranking of Australian Marine Pests
    The primary objective of this project was to provide a list of marine species in Australia, other than native species, whose members do or may threaten biodiversity within Australian waters. The project report also includes those species that are deemed likely to threaten biodiversity in the future. A priority list will then be generated of species that may become the subject of national control plans.
  • Research activities under the National System - Bureau of Rural Sciences
    There are two activities within this project. The first consists of outlining issues about the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) gene probes in ballast water sampling and port monitoring, including problems caused by false positive and false negative results and the limits for detection. The second involves creating a software model that will enable the estimation of costs to the shipping industry of alternative sets of requirements for exchanging ships' ballast water on routes between Australian ports.
  • Port Survey Data Integration into Australian Museums
    Invertebrate samples gathered during port surveys will be assessed and distributed to State museums for integration into their established collection and will clearly identify that the specimens were collected during a port survey. This information will be uploaded onto OZCAM (Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums) which is a dynamic database developed by Australian museums. Incorporation of the port survey samples into Australian museums will ensure that their long-term care is guaranteed and that they are accessible for ongoing taxonomic work via a single online biodiversity database for national faunal collections. The OZCAM database can be accessed at
  • Development of gene probes for introduced marine pest species
    The purpose of this project is to develop specific DNA primers and real-time polymerase chain reaction format (PCR format) gene probes for the species Musculista senhousia, Corbula gibba and Sabella spallanzanii that are capable of detecting larvae in ballast water.
  • Studies of the impact and dispersal of the introduced New Zealand Screwshell (Maoricolpus Roseus) to facilitate the development of a management strategy
    Objectives of this project include identifying characteristics of preferred habitat of M. roseus in inshore environments of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel; characterising feeding strategies of M. roseus and relating feeding behaviours to habitat and movement; quantifying the impact of accumulations of live M. roseus and empty M. roseus shells occupied by hermit crabs (Paguristes tuberculatus) on the community structure of soft sediment environments; quantifying the effect of screwshell aggregations on the population dynamics of the commercial scallop; and determining the timing of reproduction patterns of larval development and identifying morphogenic cues that trigger settlement and metamorphosis.
  • Development of real-time polymerase chain reaction detection methods for toxic Alexandrium dinoflagellate species
    This project will develop genetic methods for detecting the presence of toxic Alexandrium dinoflagellate species in ballast water and the marine environment. Toxic dinoflagellate species can cause severe human health problems through paralytic shellfish poisoning and lead to the closure of aquaculture enterprises and recreational harvesting of shellfish.
  • Controlling the Northern Pacific Seastar (Asterias amurensis) in Australia
  • Eradicating and preventing the spread of the invasive alga Caulerpa taxifolia in NSW
  • Minimising Impacts of the North Pacific Seastar in Australia
  • The Australian pilot project for the treatment of ships' ballast water - 2004