A couple who took their boat into Fiordland without a current Clean Vessel Pass and with suspected Sabella spallanzanii (Mediterranean Fan Worm) clinging to it, will face a hefty inspection and clean-up bill.
The boat was discovered as part of a joint agency compliance trip in the area this month, and Environment Southland director of operations Jonathan Streat said the couple were very upset to discover they had transported a potentially high-risk species into the protected area.
All vessels entering Fiordland must hold a Clean Vessel Pass and abide by the conditions of the Fiordland Marine Regional Pathway Management Plan to ensure their boats are free from pests.
“This boat had been cleaned some time ago and the owners had a Clean Vessel Pass, which they didn’t realise had expired. Initially the hull appeared relatively clean but on further inspection of the niche areas, Sabellid species along with oysters, mussels and barnacles were found.”
The exact species of Sabella has yet to be formally identified to confirm whether it is a native or pest species, but any suspected Sabella spallanzanii is a worrying find due to the invasive nature of this species. If it did become established in Fiordland it could outcompete our native species and do serious environmental damage.
All obvious signs of the suspected Sabella were carefully removed by divers to reduce any further risk to Fiordland. The vessel was then ordered to travel directly to Bluff where it was hauled out and fully cleaned, before the couple were able to continue their journey.
During the clean, the growth on the vessel was found to be in poor health, which may have provided a lucky break in terms of any risk of spread.
Another two vessels were found in Fiordland without Clean Vessel Passes and, although they were not found to be carrying any pests, they are still subject to the costs of an underwater inspection for breaching the rules.
“The Fiordland Marine Regional Pathway Management Plan, which was acknowledged with the 2018 New Zealand Biosecurity Supreme Award, was put in place to protect Fiordland from marine pests being carried in on visiting vessels and it’s essential that people understand and abide by the rules.
“In this case, the boat owners were aware of the rules but just hadn’t quite followed through and the consequences were potentially significant. Sabella is known to be in other areas of New Zealand and it’s just one of the pests we want to keep out of Fiordland, as it can upset the delicate ecosystem of the area.”
Fiordland Marine Guardians chair Dr Rebecca McLeod said they regard marine pests as one of the biggest threats to Fiordland and fully support Environment Southland cracking down on boaties who are not living up to expectations and treating this special place with the respect it deserves.
"The Guardians are here to stand up for the Fiordland underwater environment. The reason we are so hot on this issue is that there are currently no means to eradicate these pests once they get in to Fiordland waters. Once it's done, it can't be undone, meaning that boaties' actions now determine what Fiordland will be like in the future."
To find out more about Clean Vessel Passes: