Wednesday 21st Nov, 2018

Underwater drones to detect ships’ bio-hazards

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

UNDERWATER sonar drones and x-ray guns are set to feature prominently in Commonwealth plans to strengthen Australian biosecurity.

Agriculture minister David Littleproud said the government was “beefing up” biosecurity via $137.8m to build a smarter and stronger system to protect farms and the environment.

“This investment is part of the Coalition’s comprehensive plan to keep Australia’s industries and environment safe from invading biosecurity threats,” Mr Littleproud said.

“A $25.2m Biosecurity Innovation Program will invest in smart new technology, such as underwater sonar drones to check for pests on the underside of ships and x-ray guns to scan more passenger baggage more quickly at airports,” he said.

“Electronic sensors in sea containers will pick up intruding insects through sound and smell.”

Mr Littleproud said a further $36.5m would be allocated for a team of biosecurity analytics specialists to help determine which passengers, countries and imports were likely to bring in pests and diseases.

Also getting a boost will be the Indigenous Biosecurity Rangers program via $33.5m over the next five years to employ 69 groups of Indigenous Rangers on the coastline of northern Australia.

“The Rangers access remote areas to conduct animal disease samples, insect trapping and plant diseases monitoring and are now using drones to assist with plant surveillance work,” Mr Littleproud said.

“We have set aside $35m in contingency funding, ready to go if we do face an incursion we need to stamp out. Another $7.6m over five years will establish and appoint an ongoing Environmental Biosecurity Protection Officer and staff within the Department of Agriculture.”

Such an officer, the Minister said, would prepare plans and invest in projects to keep out environmental threats including the Asian black spined toad, said to be similar to the cane toad which has already wreaked havoc in northern parts of the country.

“Pests and diseases have an environmental impact,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Myrtle Rust, which arrived in Australia in 2010, causes disease in bottle brush, tea tree and eucalyptus, threatening some of Australia’s iconic native flora.”

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