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New law vital weapon in war on destructive invasive species

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs (File photograph)

A law designed to safeguard Bermuda’s borders from the threat of destructive pests will help protect the environment for future generations, the home affairs minister has said.

But Walter Roban added that the Invasive Alien Species Act would not penalise citizens for accidentally having restricted species on their property.

Mr Roban said: “I just want to erase the belief that there’s going to be an effort to go around Bermuda, search people’s gardens and then fine them for what’s in their gardens. That is not what this law is about.”

“If by some chance someone, for some reason unbeknown to them, discovered a prohibited species in their possession, they have the opportunity to bring it to the attention of the department and have it dealt with without any penalty to them.

“But if you intentionally bring something here you will be subject to the law.”

Mr Roban added: “We human beings are the most invasive species on this island, so that means we have a responsibility to carry out the appropriate management and protection of this environment, which we’ve been shaping, changing and damaging over the last four centuries of settlement.

“It’s not just a ministerial objective – I, as a Bermudian resident, believe there is work that we can do to protect our environment and this Bill that I carried through is just a part of that package of protections that we need to have.”

Mr Roban was speaking after the House of Assembly passed the legislation.

People who import or trade in invasive species could face fines of up to $50,000 or two years in jail under the new law.

Mr Roban said the legislation was drawn up after months of consultation with environmental groups and the public.

He added the legislation was needed because invasive species could destroy ecosystems that Bermudian industries depended on.

Mr Roban highlighted lionfish, native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans but which has spread across the Caribbean and northern Atlantic.

The predator could eat most of the fish in Bermudian waters and destroy the fishing industry if left unchecked.

Mr Roban said that the cedar blight of the 1940s, when the scale bug killed off 99 per cent of the island’s cedar trees, was an example of the ecological destruction caused by pests imported by accident.

He added that restoration projects set up after the blight, some of which continue to the present, had cost the government millions of dollars.

Mr Roban added that casuarina trees, imported from Australia in the 1950s as windbreaks to replace wiped-out cedars, later caused coastal erosion through their roots – a problem that the government also had to combat with expensive management projects.

He said: “Some things that happened long before many of us were born – and, in some cases, before our parents were born – have had impacts that we still have to manage today.

“The chief challenge with invasive species is that they often push out the native species and when that happens it potentially creates an imbalance in our ecosystem.”

Andrew Pettit, the head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said that HM Customs helped keep unwanted plants and animals at bay.

But Mr Pettit added: “This legislation is critical – without it we don’t have the tools to manage things coming out from the horizon.”

He added that management of pests already on the island was a problem.

Mr Pettit said: “Plants are really hard to deal with and they’re going to be an ongoing battle, especially the ones that are proliferated through birds because they have a natural spreading mechanism.”

Mr Pettit added that the best way to help the fight against invasive species was for the public to be aware of the seriousness of the problem.

He said: “These species are dominating, so the more we can educate the public the more they can take on a role to actively help us manage this.”

• For more information on invasive species or to alert the authorities to suspicious or exotic plants and animals, phone the DENR at 236-4201.

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Published October 04, 2021 at 7:52 am (Updated October 04, 2021 at 7:52 am)

New law vital weapon in war on destructive invasive species

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