New South Wales residents have been warned to be on alert as authorities battle a swarm of destructive red imported fire ants which have crossed into the state from Queensland.
South Murwillumbah, about 13 kilometres from the border, is under an emergency biosecurity order with a control zone in place after five nests were found over the weekend and then chemically eradicated.
Detection dogs are today canvassing high-risk locations rich in materials like soil, mulch, quarry products, potted plants and baled materials to trace down the nasty pest.
Meanwhile, on-ground personnel are assisting businesses within the zone to protect their premises and educating residents and the wider community.
Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty appealed to the community to be on alert as the government works to safeguard the state.
“I urge everyone in the local area to check their premises, yards and paddocks for the red imported fire ants and then reporting any suspected sighting immediately,” she said in a statement.
As part of the community response, a bus is offering information for locals to understand what they can do to prevent the spread of the invasive pest outside Tweed Shire Council in Murwillumbah.
The government is also working closely with Queensland’s National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program.
Fire ants are notorious for their devastating effects on local ecosystems.
The pest’s intense bite can kill animals and plants and cause an anaphylactic reaction in some people.
Originating from South America, the species was first detected in Australia in 2001.
More than two decades of efforts by authorities to eliminate the ant is feared to have failed after the reddish-brown pest spread across Queensland and finally broke through the NSW border over the weekend.
Moriarty on Saturday said the state had been “prepared” for the discovery and “immediately” implemented its response plan.
The government has invested $600 million into a national program to combat the fire ants, which have no known predator in Australia.
About 8.3 million people could be painfully stung each year with 83,100 of those requiring medical attention if the ants are left unchecked, warned a strategy paper prepared for the government.
Residents and businesses are urged to report any suspicious ant activity to 1800 680 244 or by visiting www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/forms/report-exotic-ants.