IMPORTS of new and used vehicles are still being hindered by biosecurity problems, with the CSIRO highlighting a shipment of electric vehicles turned away after the discovery of a stink bug infestation.

A vessel carrying just over 3700 EVs from South Korea and China had multiple detections, including the yellow-spotted stink bug. PCTC Glovis Caravel initially anchored off Brisbane but left Australia on its own accord to manage the biosecurity risk offshore. It has not returned to Australia.

A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry spokesperson confirmed the vessel had been due to make a multi-port discharge and there had been multiple reports of seasonal pests leading up this detection. September through April is peak season for invasive species, especially the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) and there have been 23 live detections at the border since the current season began.

“Each detection is managed on a case-by-case basis. DAFF works closely with the vessel to manage the biosecurity risk before vehicles are permitted to be discharged,” the spokesperson said.

The CSIRO re-iterated that materials such as soil, plant debris, seeds and live insects are likely suspects of biosecurity breaches when importing cars, with potentially devastating effects if left undetected.

According to DAFF, quoted by CSIRO, since 2021 Australia’s ports have seen an 88% increase in new vehicles arriving with biosecurity risk material contamination. Over the same period, there has been a 17% increase in the total number of new vehicle imports into Australia.

CSIRO and other agencies are co-operating in the development of an app designed to help biosecurity officers tasked with the tricky job of correctly identifying a BMSB, which looks like many of the other 600 named native stink bug species and several thousand more undescribed species. .

“On top of this, biosecurity inspectors may only have part of an insect to work with, making correct identification even harder,” CSIRO says.

To help ensure correct identification, botanist Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn used artificial intelligence (AI) to build a prototype of an easy-to-use stink bug identification app.

“We took detailed digital images of the thousands of specimens of expertly identified species of Australian and exotic stink bugs we have in our Australian National Insect Collection,’ Dr Schmidt-Lebuhn said. “We then trained AI models to recognise BMSB and tell it apart from similar looking species, especially native ones that are commonly found by biosecurity officers.”

After testing the prototype app at ports and airports around Australia, DAFF in collaboration with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water are adopting the concept and further developing it to be integrated into their data infrastructure. 

“We’re now working on a new AI model that can identify priority weed seeds, which can be equally difficult to correctly identify,” Dr Schmidt-Lebuhn said.