Biosecurity at the Port of Tauranga

April 2018

How biosecurity is being placed in the centre of operations at the Port of Tauranga

At the Port of Tauranga the goal is have no biosecurity incursions coming through the port and at the same time, contribute towards the MPI vision of building a biosecurity team of 4.7 million New Zealanders.

The Port of Tauranga is New Zealand’s largest and fastest-growing port, handling more than 22 million tonnes of import and export cargo annually, mostly connected to primary industries. In the year to June 2017, more than a million TEUs (Twenty foot Equivalent Units) of containerised cargo were processed, the first port in New Zealand to do so.

Forestry products, kiwifruit and dairy products account for approximately 80% of the Port’s exports. And there were more than 160,000 cruise ship passengers passing through the port in 2017, and at least that many are expected in 2018.

The Port of Tauranga directly employs around 200 people. Ten times that number work on its wharves for other employers and thousands more for companies doing business with the Port, such as truck drivers and service providers.

Pests and diseases from offshore can cause serious harm to New Zealand's unique environment and primary industries; and the Port of Tauranga is one of many potential gateways.

In 2017 the Port won a New Zealand Biosecurity Award recognising a high biosecurity threat awareness among not only biosecurity staff but all people employed at the port. Importers, who check incoming shipments, are equally committed to keeping out plant, animal and disease threats as are Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Port staff. The Mt Maunganui and Tauranga communities are also coming on board.

Asked what stands out about Port of Tauranga’s biosecurity effort, Janine Mayes of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)’s port of clearance service says it’s by going above and beyond meeting regulations. Staff are constantly seeking ways to do more to protect the New Zealand economy and people from biosecurity threats.

When she started work at the Port in 2014, Janine was impressed with the way health and safety was at the forefront of everyone’s consciousness. “Why not aim for the same with biosecurity?”, she wondered.

Today it’s not just MPI’s team of 10 and 200 direct employees of the Port who are defending the Bay of Plenty and New Zealand from biosecurity incursions. Thousands of people who work at the port for other companies are also on high alert for any unwanted species. A lot of the material produced to raise awareness on the port also works its way out into the transitional facilities and the general public.

Recent examples include a phone call Janine took from an office worker on the wharf asking for someone to identify the bug climbing his wall or the query about the bug that just flew onto a stevedore’s safety helmet. She often hears from stevedores about bird nests and eggs spotted in vessels, lizards, ants and other bugs, soil and fungal growth on containers. Where possible, the specimens are identified to provide feedback both to MPI and the person reporting.

Staff unpacking containers also report anything suspicious, such as the person who reported a red object jammed between pellets packed into a container last week. This turned out to be an innocuous stuffed toy but it was reassuring to know anything unusual was being noticed, said Janine.

The biosecurity process begins before vessels enter the Port of Tauranga. An MPI intelligence targeting team researches whether there have been previous breaches and checks records, including countries recently visited. If a new captain has been appointed, a meeting will be set up to check his or her biosecurity awareness. Companies and crews that have been vigilant in the past are generally less targeted.

MPI staff check ships after they dock, based on the risk analysis. A lot of bulk product arrives in Tauranga and is inspected daily during discharging, both on wharf and at facilities. Other cargo may be inspected at approved facilities in the Bay of Plenty or railed to Auckland for inspection. Products are not released to go to farms until fully discharged and cleared by MPI.

A sample of containers, of which more than a million twenty-foot (6.1m) equivalent units (TEUs) are unloaded at the port each year, are also inspected. The proportion varies according to shipping lines and load ports. A large proportion of these arrive empty for export use but still must be clean.

“Crane operators, straddle drivers and forklift operators and stevedores see every container as it’s unloaded, says Janine. “We want them to be our eyes and ears. Railway workers, truck drivers, all play their part.”

Induction brochures for truck drivers explain the impact of any biosecurity incursion, not just on farmers and growers but the New Zealand economy, jobs and people’s standard of living. It seems to be working, with drivers regularly reporting back to accredited people when they find something amiss, such as freight contaminated with soil.

Once containers arrive at an accredited facility they are opened and checked by MPI accredited people, trained to detect and report any finds. Goods such as paper, packaging and clothing are not checked by quarantine officers but could contain hitchhiking pests that sneaked inside during loading. Soil or other contaminants such as untreated wood packaging may also be present.

This summer everyone’s been on high alert for brown marmorated stink bugs, which attack crops including grapes, kiwifruit, apples, citrus and stone fruit and corn. The bugs have been found alive in New Zealand but are not yet resident.

Populations of brown marmorated stink bugs are booming in Italy, which was recently invaded, causing significant losses of horticultural crops. In a well-publicised case, 19 slipped through fumigation in Lyttelton - but were subsequently discovered in an Italian-made concrete plant by an alert importer’s employee at a transitional facility. Since December 23, all containers from Italy have been fumigated to kill any insect stowaways.

Another recent threat is the bogong moth, making mass migrations in Australia where they have been attracted to port lights. Not present in New Zealand, they damage vegetable and fruit crops as well as pasture.

Asked about the most unusual find at the Port, Janine suggests the dead dog recently discovered in a container of bagged chemicals - generally hitchhikers are not so large. Two local staff are trained in snake handling, but in recent years their skills haven’t been needed.

The only livestock approved to land at the Port of Tauranga are horses, from Australia. MPI veterinarians check the animals for clearance while the MPI port team deals with the groom and equipment. Straw and manure are safely disposed of through the quarantine waste system.

Port of Tauranga and the Ministry for Primary Industries work in partnership with Kiwifruit Vine Health, NZ Avocado, Dairy NZ, the Forestry Owners Association, NZ Customs Service and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

Cruise ships will make 86 visits to the port this summer, bringing more than 160,000 passengers. The challenge is to ensure none come onshore with fruit-fly-infested produce from stopover countries.

Two years ago MPI launched an accreditation scheme for cruise ship companies, aimed at ensuring fresh produce is free of biosecurity risks and vessels actively discourage passengers from taking fresh produce off the ship. Protocols include cruise companies sending multi-lingual messaging forbidding crew and passengers from carrying any food or drink other than bottled water ashore. All fresh fruit served in New Zealand waters is chopped up making it less portable and attractive as a snack on the go. Amnesty bins are provided and brochures handed out, explaining why bringing foods into New Zealand is forbidden.

The biosecurity effort is also extending into the community. Every year a Biosecurity Week is held, focused on reaching out to different groups. In 2016 the local community and primary schools were targeted while last year the focus was on companies involved with the port. For three years, calendars featuring 12 unwanted “bugs of the month” have been published and last year bug-man Ruud Kleinpaste was contracted to raise awareness of invasive pests.

“Everyone plays a part,” says Janine. “I’d like to think a teenager in Auckland opening an eBay delivery and saw something unusual, they would confine that inside the package and call the exotic pest and disease hotline (0800 80 99 66).”

Looking to the future, the MPI is a partner in the New Zealand Biological Heritage ‘national science challenge’ as well as the B3 (Better Border Biosecurity) science collaboration. A $1.95 million co-funded B3 research project is monitoring biosecurity awareness in the Mt Maunganui and Tauranga communities and measuring impacts of changes on biosecurity risk. This is on top of trialing new tools and technologies in the Port environment. 

A schools programme under development includes a biosecurity kit for use in the science curriculum.

Plans for the future include developing “sentinel” gardens on the Port Tauranga wharves - traditionally sterile environments – to attract insect pest stowaways. The plan is that the bugs would settle in these gardens rather than flying away to backyards where detection was less likely. The gardens would double as an educational tool, a place where staff could take a coffee break while keeping a look-out for insect pests, said Janine.

“We’ve been brain-storming ideas, putting feelers out.” The next stage could be launching Tauranga as the Biosecurity Capital of the World.

Port of Tauranga Commercial Manager Leonard Sampson says, “Effective biosecurity awareness is critical to the company running a successful business and continuing to service the Bay of Plenty region.”

Leonard heads the operations of what is New Zealand’s largest and fastest-growing port, which handles over 22 million tonnes of import and export cargo annually, mostly connected to primary industries. In the past year, more than a million TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units) of containerised cargo were handled, setting a New Zealand record. Forestry products, dairy products and kiwifruit make up the bulk of export cargoes, while imports include fertiliser, stock feed, chemicals, cars and oil products.

Cruise ships are a growing business with more than 160,000 passengers passing through the port last year and at least that many expected this year.

One of the strengths of the company is high buy-in from the Mt Maunganui community, says Leonard. “Our people are at the frontline – they’re the ones most likely to first notice an unwanted pest on cargo, vehicles or equipment moving off the port. By knowing what to look for and reporting unfamiliar insects or suspicious looking pests they help protect everyone’s livelihood and the future of the kiwifruit, avocado and forestry sectors.”

If you encounter an unknown plant or insect pest or disease ring the hotline 0800 80 99 66