Australia: Traveller hailed biosecurity champion after reporting bug

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21 December, Australia: A Victorian woman returning home from overseas is being hailed a biosecurity hero, after she reported finding one of Australia’s most potentially hazardous hitchhiker pests in her quarantine room.

Melbourne woman Eleanor Rigg had returned to Australia via Italy, after a long stint overseas, along with her father. They had settled into a Hawthorn apartment to begin quarantine when she noticed a bug on the wall above her opened backpack.

Quick-thinking Eleanor contained the specimen, a brown marmorated stink bug, and called a biosecurity hotline.

Head of Biosecurity for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Andrew Tongue, praised Eleanor for her decision to report the bug, describing it as textbook traveller behaviour which showed incredible biosecurity awareness.

“Brown marmorated stink bugs are a declared biosecurity pest,” Mr Tongue said.

“They’re prolific breeders and if they became established in Australia, would pose significant risk to our pome, stone fruit and vegetable industries.

“These bugs are also voracious feeders and don’t respond well to insecticides.

“There’s about 300 host plants in Australia potentially at risk from serious BMSB incursion. Overseas, BMSBs have caused losses of up to 90 per cent to pome and stone fruit industries.”

Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer Gabrielle Vivian-Smith said the vigilance shown by Eleanor was extraordinary and important for the protection of Australia’s environmental and economic collateral.

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“I think most people want to do the right thing and protect Australia from hazardous pests and disease, but to have the foresight to spot the bug, contain it and then report it, is wonderful,” Ms Vivian Smith said.

“I’d personally like to thank her. I’d urge all Australians to follow suit and report any insect of which they’re unsure.”

Eleanor had been living in Denmark for six years but spent the past few months travelling in Italy. She arrived with her father at Melbourne airport on 7 December and travelled by taxi to an apartment to begin quarantine.

After reporting the bug, which is also a declared pest in Italy, Eleanor captured the bug in a glass.

Biosecurity officers responded. The quarantined pair were asked to inspect the room for further specimens, directed to wash all clothes and put them through a hot dryer cycle. No other insects were found.

A DAWE biosecurity officer said Eleanor’s quick thinking averted a crisis.

“After being in Italy, Eleanor became aware of stink bugs being a pest. She immediately looked up the department’s website and was alerted to the high-risk status of this pest,” the officer said.

“From the website photos, Eleanor was able to recognise that the insect was likely BMSB, due to the white banding on its antennae.

“We instructed her to place the bug in a zip lock bag and take some close-up photos of its front and back. The specimen was confirmed as a brown marmorated stink bug remotely by a department entomologist.

“We will be sending officers to collect the specimen from biosecurity champion Eleanor after she completes quarantine. We cannot thank her enough for what she did.”

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