Protect your ports against invasive species

Ports and trade hotspots in the United States should have better ways to detect invasive species and more rapid response protocols, according to a new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

Solenopsis invicta, red imported fire ant

Neighborhood Watch - Early Detection and Rapid Response to Biological Invasion Along U.S. Trade Pathways, says accidental introductions of pests and pathogens threaten economic, environmental and public health.

“Countries all over the world are responsible for sending and receiving invasive species,” says Geoffrey Howard, IUCN’s Global Invasive Species Coordinator. “As a result, we can only hope to succeed in controlling the problem with international cooperation. The long-term hope is that countries will eventually become responsible for their exports of live organisms, but first there is need to manage the imports.”

The report, a product of an agreement between IUCN and the US Environmental Protection Agency, identifies the crucial measures needed to plug the gaps in our ability to detect species that would otherwise evade inspection and quarantine measures along trade pathways. The publication urges swift action to improve biosecurity measures, including improved coordination between agencies and greater international cooperation.

Projects that address some of the main recommendations in Neighborhood Watch are already being developed, including a trade and invasives learning network pilot project in the Caribbean.

For decades, the United States has relied upon methyl bromide to prevent the accidental introduction of agricultural pests. But this powerful toxic gas is being phased out because it is as an ozone-depleting substance banned under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Clean Air Act.

"A serious reconsideration of our national biosecurity system is now in order," says Dr. Randy Westbrooks, an invasive species prevention specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "As species overcome geographical barriers, abetted by ever expanding global trade and travel, our ability to intercept potentially harmful organisms is being challenged as never before, posing serious threats to our agricultural and biological security."

Trade regulators have not yet fully integrated biosecurity concerns into trade negotiations, and governments have failed to invest sufficiently in risk assessment and in the infrastructure and information that would make this possible, according to the report.  

Neighborhood Watch offers recommendations to improve biosecurity measures at U.S. ports, as well as a possible funding mechanism based upon the “polluter pays” principle. The publication carries a heavy warning: failure to adopt a more realistic biosecurity strategy will be costly, and will be paid in perpetuity.

The transition from a piecemeal approach to biosecurity to a more coordinated, vigilant one requires a highly sophisticated approach to information and knowledge management, dedicated resources, and improved technologies for port of entry inspection and clearance, the report says. 

Over the past decade, several countries have made important strides in this direction, including Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. However, the world would benefit even more if leaders in biosecurity commit to developing new approaches that ensure the integrity of key control points along the international trade ‘pipeline’ – from commodity point of origin to final destination, according to the report.

The report is available online

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Taffeta Gray, Communications Officer, m +1 202 330 3615, e

Case studies:
Boll Weevils set an example
Potential threat at the Port of Houston 
Coral reefs under attack by invasive Lionfish

Notes to editors:
Neighborhood Watch follows an earlier volume "Denying Entry: Opportunities to Build Capacity to Prevent the Introduction of Invasive Species and Improve Biosecurity at U.S. Ports" published in 2007 which addressed the challenges of “regulatory exclusion” of potentially invasive species through trace pathways.

About IUCN

IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.

IUCN works on biodiversity, climate change, energy, human livelihoods and greening the world economy by supporting scientific research, managing field projects all over the world, and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, with more than 1,000 government and NGO members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world.

Work area: 
Protected Areas
Marine Invasive species
Invasive species
Invasive species
North America
North America
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