Johann van der Merwe: Journey into uncharted territory: ‘protecting the conservation values of a sensitive area’


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The introduction of non-indigenous species to Barrow Island Nature Reserve was considered one of the most critical issues the Gorgon Project had to address for the Australian regulators and the community. One of the greatest environmental challenges of this century is arresting the loss of biodiversity and non-indigenous species is one of the primary drivers of this loss. The Quarantine Management System (QMS) was developed and implemented in response to this risk to Barrow Island, an Australian biodiversity icon.

Following a very lengthy and demanding assessment, the Environmental Protection Authority approved the Barrow Island QMS and considered it to be ‘world’s best practice’. This management system has set numerous new benchmarks and best practices. Notably infrastructure and technologies that prevent possible infection of cargo and people by non-indigenous species, new surveillance and monitoring techniques based on a new statistical methodology that demonstrates an acceptable level of certainty and lastly, eradication and control protocols that provides a unique emergency response assurance to all stakeholders.

Significant aspects of this QMS are unique design solutions for the supply chain, highly specialised biosecurity cleaning and treatment solutions for cargo and very innovative heat treatment and wrapping technologies. Supporting these pre-mobilisation requirements are some of the world’s most advanced diagnostic capabilities ensuring taxonomic accuracy and early emergency response and a surveillance program that is considered the most comprehensive in Australia (some would say the world). In doing so, we have described many new species (hundreds are new to science), digitized a diagnostic suite of images depicting characteristics to the micro scale. This photo-bank is web-based, accessible to public and linked electronically to a network of international experts ensuring a rapid response in the event of dealing with an invasive species.

All of this was achieved through a thorough process of planning and execution diligence based on the foundation of science, the many interfaces between social science and environmental science where outcomes were modeled using statistics and mathematics to create certainty.

The QMS is sufficiently scalable to assist any other project similarly challenged by regulatory commitments or community expectations in preventing the introduction of non-indigenous species to areas of high conservation value.

This management system has already received numerous, most notably the United Nations of Australia’s ‘Environment Best Practice’ Award in 2012, the APPEA Environment Award 2011, the Centre of Scientific Coordination ‘Excellence in Innovation Award’ and West Australian Engineering Award for Environment. [subscribe2]

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