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‘Can’t let them march any further’: appeal made to govt after fire ants discovery

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UPDATE – THURSDAY: Fire ant biosecurity zones will be expanded from Saturday to include Nirimba, after the invasive pest was detected at the Aura suburb late last month.

The zone at Nirimba will cover a 5km radius around the original detection site.

Fire ant biosecurity zones apply to anyone handling materials that can carry fire ants, such as soil, baled materials, mulch, manure, quarry products, turf, cotton and potted plants.

Residents and businesses within the new fire ant biosecurity zone and other areas must regularly check the fire ant biosecurity zones and follow associated movement control orders, and use fire ant-safe practices before transporting materials originating from within the zones.

If you cannot comply, you must apply for a biosecurity instrument permit.

Potential penalties include fines, temporary business closures and legal implications.

A statement from the National Fire Ant Eradication Program said its field teams were continuing eradication activities in Nirimba to locate and treat nests.

“If left unchecked, fire ants will change our way of life forever. Eradication is Australia’s only option, making it a national priority to protect our country,” it said.

NFAEP executive program director Ashley Bacon said eradicating fire ants was challenging and required a collective effort from the community.

“Fire ants are highly mobile and adaptable as they like to hitch rides in organic materials,” he said.

Fire ants nests have been found on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Shutterstock

“Moving just one fire ant queen to a new area could lead to the infestation of an entire community.

“Establishing a fire ant biosecurity zone in Nirimba will help reduce the risk of human-assisted movement and protect Australia from one of the world’s worst invasive pests.

To report non-compliance, use the online form or call 13 25 23.

TUESDAY: The state government has been urged to do more to stop the spread of fire ants, after the invasive pest reached the Sunshine Coast.

The LNP’s candidate for Caloundra Kendall Morton and the Shadow Minister for Agriculture Tony Perrett expressed their dismay at the situation and called for more action after the critters were discovered at Aura.

But the group tasked with leading the fightback said it was committed to protecting Australia from fire ants and it was implementing control measures.

The National Fire Ant Eradication Program (NFAEP) also said that all Queenslanders had a responsibility to take precautions to eradicate the insect “once and for all”.

Ms Morton, who fronted media at a park in Aura, said fire ants posed a significant threat to the area.

“We’re really concerned for this growing community,” she said.

“This is a serious issue, that fire ants have been detected this far north.

“We cannot allow this to spread into our parks, our beaches and our backyards, where our kids are playing every single day: it will affect our way of life.

“We are urging the state government to take it seriously.

“For it to get to this point is a grave concern for us – for all of the people that live on the Sunshine Coast and particularly at Aura as the area continues to grow.”

A spokesperson for the NFAEP said a team of experts was trying to establish how fire ants breached containment zones and infiltrated the master-planned community, and efforts were being made to control them.

“Compliance and tracing investigations are underway to help determine how fire ants arrived in the Sunshine Coast area,” they said.

“We will continue working closely with council, industry and community to ensure the area remains free of fire ants.

“We also encourage people sourcing organic materials that may carry fire ants to check where they come from and, if the supplier follows fire ant-safe practices, to avoid bringing the pest onto their property.”

Candidate for Caloundra Kendall Morton and Shadow Minister for Agriculture Tony Perrett at Aura, where fire ants were discovered.

Mr Perrett said fire ants could wreak havoc in the region and beyond.

“We’ve been warning the government for a long time that the efforts they’ve had in place haven’t been sufficient,” he said.

“We’ve seen them spread across almost a million hectares of Queensland …but the fact that they have been discovered here – it’s approximately 35km north of where they thought the containment zone was.

“We’re calling on the government to do more, and not to be evasive as they’ve been with respect to the information that’s available.

“We know it’ll cost the agriculture industry billions of dollars annually … parks will be closed, sporting fields will be closed and schoolyards will be closed because these ants are one of the worst types of ants in the in the world.

“(We need) better information systems, better transparency and some KPIs, so we know whether we are achieving what the government are claiming.”

The NFAEP spokesperson said it was important for people to be aware of fire ants and the damage they can cause.

“Fire ants pose a significant threat and can have devastating impacts on our environment, economy, health and outdoor way of life,” they said.

“They can destroy crops, gardens and parks, damage machinery and pose risks to people and animals: their painful stings can lead to fatal reactions.

“Without dedicated efforts to stop them, fire ants could infest all of Australia, resulting in billions of dollars in losses annually, surpassing the combined damage caused by other notorious pests such as feral cats, wild dogs, foxes, camels, rabbits and cane toads.”

The NFAEP is funded by state and federal governments, and delivered by Biosecurity Queensland.

The spokesperson outlined the group’s strategies to counter fire ants.

This map shows sites in Queensland that have had fire ants in the last 12 months.

“Protecting our country from fire ants is a national priority,” they said.

“Australia’s Fire Ant Response Plan 2023-27 focuses on strengthening containment and compliance, and intensifying program-led and community treatment using a systematic, outside-in approach. As fire ants are cleared from areas, treatment will progressively move inwards until all areas are free of fire ants.”

But the spokesperson said everyone in the state had a role to play to curb the spread of fire ants.

“Working together is key to eradicating this invasive pest from Australia once and for all,” they said.

“Under the Biosecurity Act 2014, all Queenslanders have a general biosecurity obligation to manage biosecurity risks and threats on property they own, manage or work on.

“This means everyone has a responsibility to regularly look for and report suspect fire ants and nests within 24 hours of sighting them; let fire ant teams into complete eradication activities; and take proactive steps not to spread fire ants.

“Fire ant biosecurity zones and movement controls are in place across parts of Queensland to stop the spread of fire ants. While a fire ant biosecurity zone is not currently in place on the Sunshine Coast, people should be vigilant if they are moving or receiving organic materials from within the zones and in areas where we have had outlier detections, such as Nirimba.”

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit a Letter to the Editor at Sunshine Coast News via news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au. You must include your name and suburb.

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