Big Data Is Being Used To Fight The Fire Ant Infestation At Port Botany

Fire ants at Port Botany. Image: Supplied.

Efforts to eradicate pesky fire ants from Port Botany in NSW have gone digital.

Primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson has launched a $9.8 million Biosecurity Information Management System to use data to protect markets as part of the state government’s Agriculture Industry Action Plan.

The system will be used for the first time to fight the red imported fire ant problem at Port Botany.

“The team on the ground at the Local Control Centre have been the first to engage the State’s new $9.8 million Biosecurity Information Management System (BIS) during a full scale biosecurity emergency response,” Hodgkinson said.

“The new cloud-based system was developed to enhance the State’s capacity to deal with biosecurity threats and emergencies. It geospatially tracks surveillance teams, minimises duplication and data entry time, and has been particularly valuable for mapping the extensive surveillance carried out following the red fire ant detection.”

The new system enables teams to log real-time data, including images so staff in labs can stay up-to-date with the situation on the ground. Having access to more data also enables additional resources to be deployed quickly if required, Hodgkinson said.

“It has exceeded our expectations and while it is being used successfully in daily operations by the Department of Primary Industries, its full potential and benefits are realised during an emergency response,” she said.

“NSW is driving and developing this technology, and already our colleagues in Queensland have expressed interest in modelling their system on ours.”

Local residents have also been helpful in the fight against the ant pest which was first discovered at the port late last year.

“We have received over 350 calls to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline with people reporting suspicious ants, which have thankfully been assessed to be negative for fire ants,” Hodgkinson said.

“While it appears that the detection is isolated to the one site, it is crucial that people remain vigilant and experts will be carrying out the next round of targeted baiting treatment at the detection site this week.”

Baiting is underway across more than 100ha of land this week to eradicate the species.

“Experts from Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry will be on hand carrying out this latest round of specialised baiting,” she said.

“Following this week’s baiting activity, the Local Control Centre will stand down, but the Department will continue to work with Local Land Services to monitor the situation at Port Botany. They’ll investigate any reports of suspect ants and conduct further rounds of baiting.

“A full Local Control Centre will be reopened in June to resource another extensive residential and port surveillance campaign later this year.”

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