Environmental issues

Pests and weeds

Sea spurge - Euphorbia paralias

An invasive problem

Sea spurge appearance

Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias) is an invasive beach weed that originated from Europe. Sea spurge was probably introduced to Australia in ships’ ballast water about 70 years ago. The plant first appeared in Western Australia and is now found throughout south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania and the islands of Bass Strait.

In the past 20 years, it has colonised beaches along the NSW South Coast and is progressively working its way north.

Why is sea spurge a problem?

Sea spurge can produce up to 5000 salt-tolerant seeds. These seeds can survive for a number of years on ocean currents that spread them from beach to beach. Once established, a sea spurge colony can spread rapidly, displacing the native vegetation and changing the structure of the beach. This can disrupt many native species including the endangered shorebirds (hooded plovers, little terns and oystercatchers) that use open sand spits for nesting.

What does sea spurge look like?

Sea spurge is a small leafy shrub, pale green in colour. It grows to about 70 cm in height and has multiple stems covered in small tightly packed leaves. Small green flowers appear at the end of the stems and bloom between September and May.

Where does sea spurge grow?

Sea spurge can grow anywhere on the beach front, from the high water mark to well into the dunes. It colonises both bare sand and the native dune vegetation. Sea spurge has also been found on rocky foreshores and rock shelves, on the steep back dunes and inside the mouths of coastal lakes and estuaries.

Where has sea spurge invaded?

Sea spurge leaves

Infestations of sea spurge have caused major environmental problems in Tasmania and Victoria. It is gradually working its way north and NSW South Coast beaches are on the frontline of defence. At present sea spurge is generally in low densities on most beaches south of Nowra. Significant effort by volunteers and government agencies has taken place on all southern NSW beaches. However, an established seed bank and re-infestation makes this an ongoing project for many years.

How can I help?

Firstly, let your local council or authority know wherever sea spurge is found. Community action is the most effective control for this beach invader. You can help by joining a local Landcare group or adopting a favourite beach and patrolling it regularly.

Remove any plants you find. Sea spurge seedlings and juveniles can be removed by hand, but firstly make sure you have correctly identified the weed. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the sap, and ensure you remove the entire taproot. Plants may be left on the beach to decompose. Follow-up control is required at all sites to break the re-infestation cycle.

Follow up your work

Following up your initial efforts is the best way to make sure that you have cleared your beach of sea spurge. Regularly inspect your beach for new outbreaks. New infestations are generally small and easy to control.

Chemical control is for qualified operators only and will be undertaken by your local council or control authority for larger or more difficult infestations.


Sea spurge sap

The broken stems of sea spurge ooze a toxic milky sap. This sap may irritate the skin and is painful if brought into contact with the eyes.

Please follow these guidelines for your own health and safety:

  • wear strong plastic coated gloves
  • wear long protective clothing
  • wear protective eye glasses
  • remember to wash your hands after handling.

Need more information? 

You can also find more information on the Australian Government Weeds website.

Page last updated: 24 March 2015