Stopping the aliens: what are we doing about it?
The Australian Antarctic Division has implemented two major changes in the way cargo is processed. Firstly the cargo store has been moved from the AAD's headquarters in rural Kingston to Macquarie Wharves in Hobart, where cargo is loaded on to southbound ships. This is a far more sterile environment than the Kingston store, where nearby flora includes 16 species we see as having a high potential to invade Macquarie Island and Heard Island.
Secondly, AAD store staff have adopted strategies to minimise contamination when handling cargo, including trials of a new food treatment process in which fresh fruit and vegetables are enclosed in a container with an 'ozone generator'. Results are very promising for both quarantine measures and food quality. Food including strawberries, cucumbers and lettuces – all difficult to store conventionally – was in excellent condition after 21 days. The absence of 'bad' patches on fruit and vegetables limits the potential for larvae or eggs to develop, and removal of oxygen from the container means that any insects that may have been accidentally packed are unlikely to survive.
These changes have had a substantial positive effect on reducing the risk of alien introductions to our Antarctic locations through ANARE cargo operations.