More than 100 fire ant nests have been detected on North Stradbroke Island in just eight months, sparking calls for residents to remain vigilant and report any sightings of the invasive pest to authorities.
A National Fire Ant Eradication Program spokeswoman said targeted surveillance of high-risk sites and potential habitats was under way across North Stradbroke Island and the Southern Moreton Bay Islands.
Authorities treated 21 nests across three properties at Dunwich earlier this year but the number of detections on Minjerribah has since surged to more than 100, with a single nest also located on Macleay Island.
The community is being urged to stay alert for fire ants, which are considered a significant threat to the state’s agriculture and tourism industries, and ensure any sightings are reported to authorities within 24 hours.
“In addition to the initial nests found near Dunwich, we have also found fire ant nests at two sites further south on the Island and a single nest on Macleay Island,” a National Fire Ant Eradication Program spokeswoman said.
“We have completed the initial treatment of the nests near Dunwich and on Macleay Island, and we are working with the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) to develop a suitable treatment plan for the remaining nests.
The invasive pest has also been continuing its march on the mainland, with a nest discovered just 5.5 kilometres from the NSW border at Tallebudgera in July.
It sparked further calls for fast-tracked investment in eradication efforts, while authorities responded with a control order to prohibit the movement of materials from the site that could bring the ant into NSW.
A new containment area has also been established, forming a horseshoe around the infestation area which spans from Moreton Bay in the north, west to the Lockyer Valley, east to the Gold Coast and south to the Tweed Shire.
It was announced as part of a new fire ant response plan endorsed by all jurisdictions after a meeting of agriculture ministers in July, backing the work being undertaken by the National Fire Ant Eradication Program.
Queensland agriculture minister Mark Furner said the focus on compliance showed the program was serious about enforcing rules to prevent fire ant spread.
“Under the Biosecurity Act there are penalties of up to $470,000 or three years imprisonment for the most serious aggravated offences,” he said.
“For businesses or persons who fail to discharge their General Biosecurity Obligation, compliance officers have powers under the Biosecurity Act to shut down worksites until a biosecurity risk is mitigated.
“No business wants to lose weeks of work or future work as a result of fire ants, and the way to stop that is by following the rules.”
Experts previously thought fire ants would struggle to adapt to sandy island soils but the spread on Minjerribah has raised concerns that the World Heritage-listed K’gari (Fraser Island) could also be at risk of invasion.
The National Fire Ant Eradication Program said it would continue fire ant surveillance and treatment efforts on Minjerribah.