A manual to prevent biocontamination in South Georgia | Polarjournal
South Georgia is a haven for many species of marine mammals and birds. There are five million seals of four different species, and 65 million birds of 30 different species breeding on the island. Whether plant or animal, non-native species are a real threat to isolated sub-Antarctic and Antarctic regions. And it takes a lot of time and resources to eradicate them. Hence the need to introduce high biosafety standards. Image: Copernicus Sentinel 2

Reducing the risk of introducing harmful species and pathogens into South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is the priority of the Biosecurity Handbook’s new edition that has just been published online.

Biosafety standards are being tightened in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic region. The aim is to prevent the introduction of foreign animal and plant species and pathogens that could harm native ecosystems and species. In these isolated areas, the main vector of contamination is human beings, who often unknowingly bring invasive species with them. With more and more visitors arriving in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, updating the biosecurity handbook is an essential first step.

Specifically, the manual update focuses on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and the cruise passenger audit system. Although no cases were reported in the South Atlantic region during the last season, HPAI was detected on the South American continent. The risk of introduction into South Georgia can therefore not be ruled out for the coming season, which begins in late October.

Such a virus could wreak havoc on the 65 million nesting birds. Measures include enhanced biosecurity procedures, warning signs and steps in place for different groups/activities depending on the level of response. If HPAI is suspected at a site, it may be closed to visitors temporarily or for the rest of the season.

For cruise ships bringing passengers to South Georgia, vigilance is required regarding the introduction of foreign species. A biosecurity audit has been set up, consisting of a physical check carried out by government agents on all ships arriving in South Georgia. Their aim is to assess the compliance and effectiveness of biosecurity measures. The agents therefore carry out a standardized inspection of clothing, shoes and bags to detect any traces of pollen or seeds hidden in nooks and seams that passengers might bring onto the island when they disembark.

These measures, which have been in place for several years, have been evaluated. A more focused system has been introduced for the coming season, including basic and comprehensive audits.

For a comprehensive audit, a statistically significant sample size proportional to the number of passengers is calculated and checked. If at least 95% of the audited sample presents no biosecurity risk, the audit is passed, and the vessel can undergo a basic audit on its next visit. In other words, there still will be a check, but with a smaller sample. If the comprehensive audit is unsuccessful, the vessel will be audited again using the same procedure.

The manual applies to anyone entering South Georgia or the South Sandwich Islands, whether a tourist or a scientist. Similarly, the rules apply to both passenger ships and cargo vessels, even when they are operating within the maritime zone.

Link to the biosafety manual: https: //www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Environment/Biosecurity/Biosecurity_Handbook.pdf

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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