Foreign invader: The red imported fire ant, an infestation of which arrived at Port Botany earlier this month. Photo: Supplied The new eradication area.
There are renewed concerns the outbreak of red imported fire ants in Sydney could spread to backyards and playgrounds as the state government expands its eradication efforts.
NSW Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson announced on Wednesday that the control area had been extended to cover a two-kilometre radius from the nests in Port Botany.
The control area now includes more than 2000 homes, as well as playgrounds, golf courses and local businesses.
The ants were first discovered in early December and experts have warned it is critical to eradicate them immediately.
“While no additional sites have been found, authorities are taking all possible steps to prevent any potential spread of the pest,” Ms Hodgkinson said.
Surveillance has now covered 366 hectares across the two-kilometre zone, according to Ms Hodgkinson. The movement of “high-risk materials” that could contain the fire ants – including soil, mulch, pot plants and turf – has also been limited within the control area.
The Invasive Species Council, which described the pests as “the piranha of the ant world”, warned the initial eradication response was crucial. The ants can inflict painful bites on people, pets and livestock.
“If it fails, it will irrevocably change Sydney,” a spokeswoman said. “Imagine future Christmases with red imported fire ants – no backyard barbecues, no children running about the yard [and] parks out of bounds unless governments spend lots of money baiting. It would mean much less wildlife and great costs to farmers.”
A Department of Primary Industries spokesman said an “extensive” community awareness program was underway. “All affected residents received information in the mail and we are working with councils and other local organisations to get information out to the community,” the spokesman said.
The control order also gives authorities the power to check properties if they suspect fire ants are in the vicinity, according to the spokesman.
The DPI declined to provide an exact location of the quarantined site in Port Botany, citing confidentiality reasons.
Fire ants, which are endemic in parts of the United States, cost its economy up to $7 billion per year. A previous study estimated the cost to southeast Queensland alone could be up to $43 billion over 30 years if the ants were not contained.