Biosecurity awareness in port communities

Tauranga is home to New Zealand's busiest port. Last year it handled more than eight million tonnes of imported goods. That's a lot of cargo for pests, weeds and diseases to hide amongst. But with an estimated two thousand workers on the port there's also a lot of eyes potentially scanning for evidence of contaminations.

In 2016 MPI, the Port company and several local industries banded together to promote biosecurity awareness among members of the port community. And B3 is providing research to support this biosecurity excellence initiative, through identifying local risks, investigating potential new technologies and quantifying changes in biosecurity awareness.

B3’s Theme Leader from AgResearch John Kean explains: “The Biosecurity Excellence Initiative is doing a great job promoting biosecurity awareness with open days, demonstrations, sausage sizzles and informational calendars for people working in and around the port. They are engaging the local community in a dialogue around what biosecurity means for them and how they can participate. In B3 we are excited to be contributing our science expertise to this effort”.

John co-leads a multidisciplinary B3 project with Scion’s Steve Pawson. In part of the work entomologists are measuring the insect activity at the port in preparation for trying out new detection tools for exotic species. Meanwhile social scientists are measuring the impacts of the Initiative’s promotional activities on awareness and support for biosecurity among the wider community. The work aligns closely with MPI’s new Biosecurity 2025 strategy that aims for a biosecurity team of 4.7 million New Zealanders.

One of the highlights of the first year for John has been working with Tauranga-based trust House of Science to develop an educational kit for primary and intermediate schools. The kit features seven hands-on activities related to biosecurity and culminates in a custom-designed board game (see picture) in which the children take on various roles in the biosecurity system and work cooperatively to exclude or eradicate some of the nastiest invaders threatening New Zealand. The bi-lingual kit is currently being trialled in a range of schools around Tauranga. “It’s awesome to see the kids playing the game,” says John, “arguing over tough decisions about whether to post more border inspectors, set out surveillance traps or try to eradicate some nasty that has snuck through their defences”. The children are being surveyed before, after and six months after using the kit to measure its impact on their understanding of biosecurity.

“Ultimately we want to know the best ways to engage the whole port community in biosecurity, from the CEOs of the stevedore and marshal companies right down to their children and grandchildren who will eventually take over guardianship of our borders.”

Contact:  John [dot] Kean [at] agresearch [dot] co [dot] nz