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New Biosecurity Legislation Recommended by Council

19 May 2020

Conservation, Council, Government, Ordinances, Travel and Shipping

On 05 May 2020 the Ascension Island Council voted to recommend that new biosecurity legislation is put in place to help protect Ascension’s economy, environment and human health from the introduction of plants and animals that are not native to Ascension.

Ascension has already had its fair share of troublesome introduced species with more than 90% of the plants and at least 70% of the invertebrates now found on the island believed to have been introduced from elsewhere. Some of these include:

  • Mexican thorn - Mosquitos
  • Centipedes - Scorpions
  • Ants -Wasps
  • Termites - Rats
  • Myna birds

In one way or another all of these examples have had a negative effect on Ascension’s economy or environment, from the costly fumigation and building repairs as a result of termites and ants, to the predation of young land crabs by rats.

Unfortunately, these species are already here and without a significant amount of money and time the island is stuck with them and the ongoing costs needed to control them.

However, there are other species that haven’t arrived yet that would like to be kept out. What would Ascension be like if it had:

  • Venomous spiders or snakes like the Black Widow and Puff Adder?
  • Mosquitos that can transmit malaria or the zika virus?
  • Fire or crazy ants around people’s homes?
  • Lionfish destroying fish stocks?

What could be done about it? How much would it cost? Would human health be affected? Would the island’s natural environment be at risk?

Like all things, prevention is better than cure and this is where biosecurity comes in.

Biosecurity is border control for animals, plants and diseases. It means putting in place measures to prevent new species reaching Ascension and to detect them very quickly if they do sneak in.

Ascension is a remote island that is largely dependent on imports to satisfy the need for everything from fruit and vegetables through to building materials and machinery. Importing goods will always carry a risk of introducing new plants and animals to the island, so a balance must be struck between reducing that risk and allowing the goods the island needs to continue to arrive.

This problem is faced by many islands and Ascension is not the first to try to tackle this issue. Many people will be familiar with the controls in place on St Helena and anyone lucky enough to have travelled to New Zealand will have experienced their very thorough checks!

Since 2013 the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has been supporting the AIG Conservation and Fisheries Directorate’s work on invasive species and over the last year the AIG have been working with experts and other territories to develop a system that is suitable for Ascension. Through a project funded by the UK government’s Darwin Plus programme, AIG staff were able to travel to St Helena and the UK to receive training and to experience their systems at work.

Thanks to the Tackling Invasive Non-Native Species in the Overseas Territories project, financed by the UK government Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), AIG staff we were able to work with international experts to identify the highest risk species that could come to Ascension so that the island can be ready for them. The species identified that were of most concern were:

  • Red fire ants that can deliver extremely painful bites.
  • Mosquito species that carry diseases.
  • Brown rat, which is more aggressive than its black cousin.
  • Lionfish, that can devastate fish stocks.

Following this AIG staff consulted on potential safety measures with island organisations and importers to better understand the impact of these.

Putting together the knowledge gained from training in other countries, consultation with people and companies on Ascension and trial inspections on imports, the AIG has developed a system that will reduce the risk of new species arriving, but also ensure there isn’t any significant disruption to bringing in the goods and the people the island needs. This will be achieved by requiring that high risk goods coming into Ascension meet certain standards published on the AIG website, and through inspections of imports to detect any potential issues.

The legislation will come into force in July. In the meantime, AIG will be working hard to ensure importers and everyone living on the island understand the new controls. More information about the types of imports that will be affected can be found on the Biosecurity page.