Protecting NSW beaches from coastal invader

The NSW Government has joined forces with the national science agency CSIRO to help coastal communities combat a European weed invading Australia's southern beaches.

Sea spurge

Environment Minister James Griffin said sea spurge seeds are reaching NSW beaches, after riding the waves and ocean currents north from Tasmania and Victoria.

"A small sea spurge infestation was spotted at Bilgola Beach on the Northern Beaches in 2011, and within a few years, there was a severe infestation," Mr Griffin said.

"It took hours of hand-weeding over a number of years to remove the invasive weed and repair the beach environment there.

"Sea spurge is now reappearing in New South Wales, this time in more regional and remote areas of New South Wales, and we suspect it's spreading from Victorian and Tasmanian beaches."

The NSW Government, in partnership with CSIRO, is now working to stop the plant at the source, before it reaches New South Wales.

A spraying program is underway, using a highly specific biocontrol agent of sea spurge, a fungus, which is native to France.

"This means the fungus does the work, instead of herbicides and labour-intensive weed-pulling, and it doesn't harm the native NSW environment," Mr Griffin said.

CSIRO research scientist Dr Gavin Hunter said sea spurge was a prolific seed producer, with mature plants producing up to 20,000 seeds per year.

"Sea spurge grows anywhere on the beach front from the high-water mark. It outcompetes native dune vegetation and affects shorebirds like hooded plovers, little terns and pied oystercatchers that use open sand for nesting," Dr Hunter said.

"Classical biocontrol, like the sea spurge biocontrol agent, can target weeds in hard-to-reach places, using a fraction of the former effort and expenditure that was needed."

The fungus was approved by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) for release in Australia to control sea spurge, based on CSIRO's extensive research.

To find out more, visit Protecting NSW beaches from coastal invader.