Aliens in Antarctica

The introduction of non-native species to Antarctica poses a threat to Antarctic animals and plants through disease.

Now a new Alien Invertebrate Collection Kit, developed by environmental officers at the Australian Government Antarctic Division, is available on ships and stations to enable expeditioners to collect anything suspicious.

Alien invertebrates include insects, slugs and spiders, which can stow away on personal clothing, baggage, food and in ships’ cargo.

A recent outbreak of mushroom gnats (Lycoriella ingenua) at Casey station, for example, was thought to originate from tiny eggs deposited on fresh vegetables delivered on a resupply voyage. The eggs were then washed down the kitchen sink and into the waste treatment plant where they hatched.

Despite strict quarantine procedures for food, vacuuming of clothing and baggage, and the scrubbing and sterilisation of footwear, aliens will still find their way into Antarctica. As tourist and research visits increase, so will the risk.

Operations Safety and Environment Advisor, Leslie Frost, said many people visiting Antarctica may have visited other cold or polar regions and could bring alien species with them that are well adapted to cold environments.

‘These alien invertebrate kits provide an efficient collection and cataloguing process that will allow us to identify the most common aliens carried into Antarctica and where they are coming from.’

The kits include collection vials, bar codes and instructions for reporting the find on the Antarctic Division’s incident reporting system, which enables tracking of the samples in an alien invertebrate database.