Coasts and Oceans Theme Report
Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06751 5
The issue of introduced marine species transported by shipping is complex and involves stakeholders as diverse as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Commonwealth and State Governments, the shipping industry, mariculture, environmental organisations, and recreational interests. Within the shipping sector, no single solution could be applied to recreational, fishing, container and other commercial vessels.
The 1999 Black Striped Mussel incursion prompted the establishment of the National Task Force on the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions. This task force recommended reforms to current arrangements in December 1999, the major one being the establishment of a single national management regime for vessels. Its recommendations are being implemented through the work of the National Introduced Marine Pests Co-ordination Group to reform border prevention and management of existing pests.
A national coordination mechanism for emergency responses to introduced marine pests was established in 2000 as part of the reforms (the Consultative Committee on Introduced Marine Pest Emergencies). It has available an interim $5 million emergency response fund, pending longer-term arrangements that will be in place after 2002.
Internationally, implementation of improved ballast water management has been slow. The Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO has been drafting binding ballast water management arrangements for international shipping since 1997, but is not expected to have a treaty document available for the signature of member nations until 2001 or 2002.
The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) is the lead agency for the management of ballast water in international vessels. Voluntary measures and guidelines to manage ballast waters have been in place in Australia since 1990. Australia introduced mandatory ballast water management arrangements in July 2001 for international shipping entering Australian waters. The new arrangements incorporate a risk assessment management tool that provides vessels with an assessment of the likelihood of their introducing exotic species into Australian ports or waters via ballast water. A revised ballast water reporting system and verification inspections is also an integral part of the new arrangements. Vessels are assessed by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) as either high risk (in which case full exchange of ballast water at sea is required) or low risk (in which case exchange of ballast waters within coastal waters is allowable).
Another technology, apart from exchanging water at sea, that is showing potential is to heat the ballast water using waste heat from a ship's engine. Development of other technical solutions such as filtration, ozonation and ultraviolet treatment is under way.
The Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment is managing two projects that are relevant to translocation issues nationally. The projects target two major pests: the Northern Pacific Seastar and Undaria seaweed. One project will develop sterilisation techniques and a mandatory code of practice for sterilising mariculture equipment that farmers move from one coastal site to another. The second project will develop voluntary operating practices that encourage small vessel operators and port managers to help prevent marine pests spreading to and between local ports.
The control and management of hull fouling presents particular challenges that have not yet been analysed on a national basis. Anecdotal information suggests that hull fouling is more likely to be a problem for smaller vessels than for large international vessels. Improved ways of dealing with pest introductions via hull fouling are being sought through the work of the National Introduced Marine Pests Co-ordination Group.
The susceptibility of Australian waters to the introduction of exotic marine species is significantly higher than previously thought. Our isolation through geological time has allowed a unique and highly endemic fauna and flora to develop and flourish in our waters. This uniqueness means that species introduced from other regions can be particularly damaging to our ecological systems.
Scientists have estimated that there is at least one new introduction per year, but there are large gaps in the data on which to base a national assessment. Both tropical and temperate waters are susceptible to the threat of introduced species.
The surveys of ports and harbours being undertaken by CSIRO's Centre for Research on Introduced Marine Pests are providing a necessary baseline of information on introduced species. However, unless the ports and harbours at greatest risk are resurveyed regularly, we will not become aware of any new introductions either from overseas or from ports around Australia. Currently Darwin is the only port that undertakes an annual survey and monitors for pest species. This lack of survey and monitoring could pose an unacceptable risk to Australia. The use of a standard protocol could enable the issue to be addressed on a consistent national basis.
There are still a number of issues to be addressed by the various stakeholders, mainly those of integrating responses across jurisdictions and across marine industries.