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article imageOp-Ed: Poison Fire Coral — Deadly fungus is also a major wakeup call

By Paul Wallis     Oct 4, 2019 in Environment
Cairns - The arrival of the truly dangerous Asian fungus in Australia is in many ways just another problem for Australia’s endless biohazards war. The problem is that this is a fungus, and fungi can spread fast.
The Poison Fire Coral fungus is a native of Korea and Japan, known to be spreading through Asia, and it’s pretty grim in its own right. It delivers a contact poison which can do organ damage, “shrink the brain”, and in some cases is lethal. It was discovered in far north Queensland, and it has experts quite understandably worried. It’s a hazard to anything that touches it, let alone consumes it.
The fungus almost inevitably arrived by ship. It’s likely to trace to shipments of agricultural products, or some random contact with materials being shipped. The problem for Australia is that introduced pests often spread rapidly, not allowing enough time for any sort of effective local control at the point of arrival.
The recent discovery of full-grown fungi is another problem. Fungi propagate by spores. They can produce enormous numbers of these spores, which simply wait for the right growing conditions, when there’s enough moisture. The spores float for long distances in the air and can spread rapidly over large areas. In Queensland, the wet season every year would be ideal for them.
The fungus is also not a tropical organism. It can survive Japanese and Korean temperatures, which can vary to extreme heat and cold. It would do well just about anywhere on the east coast and Tasmania. The only defence the Australian climate has is water scarcity. For a nice change our murderous droughts might actually do some good.
North Queensland is also road train country. Anything can hitch a ride from the Top End southwards. A microscopic fungal spore or a few thousand of them would be enough to spread the species around the country. That sort of spread means a significant biohazard for people and animals.
Fungi and more fungi
According to reports, Poison Fire Coral is just one of 20 new species of fungi discovered in Australia recently. That’s not necessarily good for our biohazard management, either. The same issues apply to these new species, and as you might expect, biohazard funding tends to come after the onset of some new horror story.
Fungi have survived every major extinction on Earth, and they certainly aren’t going to feel too threatened by our funding issues. These fungi could be a good test case for bringing in new and effective controls and doing things properly. Let’s hope someone sees the opportunity to get things right.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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