Biosecurity officers in Australia have found that the Australians have destroyed irreplaceable flowering plant species. Michelle Waycott, chair of the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria said, “They were the first type specimens collected of a species.” Samples of lichen were sent to Australia in the 19th century. Authorities said the packages didn’t specify the intrinsic value of the samples. The customs officers had held onto them for longer than required before deciding that they posed a likely biosecurity risk.
The Department of Agriculture approved, “the intrinsic value of the specimens,” and conceded that its destruction was “premature.” Both senders and recipients get the notifications when Australia’s customs officials plan to abolish their items. In this case, authorities neither informed the French or New Zealand organizations regarding sending the samples nor Australian scientists awaited them of their decision to destroy their lichen. Waycott further added, “These specimens are also the last remaining evidence that they were present in a particular location.” In future, scientists have planned to use the plant species to regulate whether fieldwork had discovered new species in Australia.
The Agricultural Department spokesperson wrote in an email, “The department concedes the unintentionally proceeding with the destruction of the specimens was premature. But it does highlight the importance of the shared responsibility of Australia’s biosecurity system and the need for adherence to import conditions.” To avoid the occurrence of the same situation again, the department will undertake a “comprehensive review of this incident”.
Last year, in a similar incident, New Zealand’s Landcare Research Allan Herbarium lent lichen samples collected in the 1930s to the Australian National Herbarium. The loan was offered in order to see if lichen found in both countries were alike, but the sample was destroyed at the border of Sydney by the officials. Australia has some of the world’s severest border enforcement, with officials requesting that security laws protect the nation’s ecosystem from various pests and diseases from off the island.