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As the Pacific Games unfolds in Honiara in November 2023, a surge in regional travel has increased the potential risks related to the introduction and spread of harmful pests and diseases. The Pacific Community (SPC), in close collaboration with Biosecurity Solomon Islands (BSI) and Solomon Islands Biosecurity Development Program (SIBDP) administered by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), is working behind the scenes to mitigate these risks effectively.
This initiative is funded by the European Union under the Safe Agricultural Trade Facilitation through Economic Integration in the Pacific (SAFE Pacific) project. A notable part of this support is the presence of two biosecurity officers from the Cook Islands, actively observing, learning from and assisting the operations of the local biosecurity team.
"The BSI team are stretched across all their areas of work, ensuring effective measures are taken to safeguard both Solomon Islands and the region as participating countries travel to the event and return home. SPC and the Cook Islands Biosecurity officers are providing crucial support to BSI airport operations to cope with the dramatic increase in passenger clearance, baggage screening, search and dealing with non-compliance," said SPC's Biosecurity Officer Mr Riten Gosai.
He highlighted the vulnerability of small island nations to pests and diseases, which, upon introduction into new areas, can harm agriculture, the environment and a country's unique biodiversity, emphasising the shared responsibility to protect the region from these risks.
"As part of the preparations, BSI, SIBDP and SPC raised awareness with athletes, officials, the travelling public, and volunteers on items prohibited entry into the Solomon Islands, what to declare upon arrival and the importance of adhering to biosecurity rules. Particularly, fresh fruits and vegetables or meat from high-risk countries are a threat to Solomon Islands as they can introduce unwanted foreign plant pests or animal diseases," said Mr Gosai.
In addition to this work, SPC and the Cook Islands Biosecurity Officers joined the BSI Surveillance team to reinforce the pest detection capabilities through early warning systems, helping replace or strategically install new traps in high-risk areas such as the game venues, games villages and around athletes' accommodation.
Senior Biosecurity Officer Mr Walter Tangata expressed his gratitude, stating, "I want to extend my thanks to SPC and the EU for organising the visit by Biosecurity officers from the Cook Islands and the warm welcome extended by BSI. The initial days have been dedicated to observing and understanding the operations of BSI in processing international flights at the airport. It's different from our approach in the Cook Islands, yet similar in many aspects."
Mr Tangata highlighted that the knowledge acquired during the visit to Solomon Islands will significantly enhance the capabilities of Cook Islands Biosecurity. This is especially true in reassessing how specific functions can be approached differently within airport and seaport operations, waste management, treatment of risk goods and surveillance programmes.
Director of BSI, Mr. Francis Tsatsia, welcomed the support of SPC and Cook Islands Biosecurity Officers, highlighting that this engagement underscores true Pacific spirit and effective collaboration in protecting our countries from exotic biosecurity threats.
About SAFE Pacific
The Safe Agriculture Trade Facilitation through Economic Integration in the Pacific (SAFE Pacific) project is funded by the European Union and implemented by The Pacific Community to support greater regional economic integration. The SAFE Pacific project aims to improve the economic and social benefits for Pacific countries arising from stronger regional economic integration. SAFE Pacific is implemented across 15 Pacific countries, including Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, PNG, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.