COVID-19 boosts Torres Strait response to biosecurity threats

Tuesday, 14 July, 2020

COVID-19 boosts Torres Strait response to biosecurity threats

The COVID-19 pandemic has unexpectedly boosted efforts to improve response capacity and capability in the Torres Strait region to keep Australia’s mainland free of exotic fruit flies and other biosecurity threats. The pandemic has accelerated a Biosecurity Queensland program to engage Indigenous rangers from the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) to deliver fruit fly blocking operations.

As part of the Far Northern Biosecurity Initiative, Biosecurity Queensland has conducted joint fruit fly blocking operations with TSRA since November 2019, training local rangers on some islands on what to do. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Biosecurity Queensland could no longer travel to remote communities, and had to hand over full operational delivery to the TSRA rangers.

“Since April 2020, TSRA Indigenous rangers have successfully delivered fruit fly blocking operations in the Torres Strait with recent trapping results showing a huge decrease in fruit fly numbers,” said Cynthia Lui, Member for Cook.

TSRA Chair Pedro Steven said the partnership has enabled Torres Strait islanders to be employed in delivering the eradication program within their own communities, boosted community understanding of biosecurity and improved the biosecurity response capacity in the region.

“Additionally, it has provided Biosecurity Queensland with operational flexibility, even once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. This partnership model has proved a win-win for both government and the local Indigenous people, and arrangements are being made to secure the ranger’s involvement in the program longer term,” Steven said.

The blocking operations are part of the Exotic Fruit Flies in Torres Strait Eradication Program, delivered by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. According to Mark Furner, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, the program is a key component of Australia’s defence against these pests, and has prevented outbreaks of exotic fruit flies on the Australian mainland.

“Exotic fruit fly species such as Oriental fruit fly blow into Torres Strait each summer from countries to Australia’s north. If fruit fly blocking, trapping and bait spraying measures weren’t used annually on the islands in the Torres Strait, Australia’s horticultural industries would be placed at a significantly increased risk of an exotic fruit fly incursion,” Furner said.

Fruit flies can negatively impact Australia’s capacity to trade in domestic and international markets, as they can infest a range of horticultural crops and affect food security in remote communities.

Image credit: ©

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