MAF Biosecurity New Zealand acts on marine pest find in Lyttelton Port

28 May 2008

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ), is responding to the detection of a new and unwanted marine species in Lyttelton Port.

The newly identified species, the Mediterranean fanworm (Sabella spallanzanii), was found as part of MAFBNZ's routine targeted surveillance programme. This programme, undertaken at a number of ports and marinas where vessels enter New Zealand, is designed to detect certain introduced pest organisms at an early stage in order to allow a greater chance of eradication or effective management.

Response Manager, Senior Marine Advisor Dr Peter Stratford says the fanworm is one of the species MAFBNZ looks out for, due to its potential to spread and impact on other marine species. The Mediterranean fanworm poses no risk to human health.

Dr Stratford says the detection of a single mature individual fanworm is the first report of this species in New Zealand.

"At this point in time, it is too early to know the scale of what we are dealing with in Lyttelton, and indeed the course of action to be taken. At the time the sample was taken, visibility was low in the harbour and the divers undertaking the work were not able to gain a clear picture of the spread of any species present.

"The next step for us is to establish how widespread the fanworm is, and determine any potential impacts on New Zealand's marine environment."

Dr Stratford says work is underway developing a survey that will determine the size of the population in the area and inform decisions on the type of management that may be required to limit its spread or impact.

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A photo of the Mediterranean fanworm is available on request. Further information on the fanworm is available at: Mediterranean fanworm