Monday, December 4, 2023

Watch out for toxic beach weed

Beachgoers are being urged to watch out for a toxic and invasive weed that’s been cropping up in parts of Aotearoa.

Experts say ‘sea spurge’ invades the shores just above the high tide mark, disrupts sand dunes, and stops native plants from being able to grow.

Department of Conservation (DOC), and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) want people to report any sightings.  

They say its sap is toxic to humans and animals and can cause skin irritations, or even temporary blindness.

“Having a day at the beach is quintessential to a New Zealand summer, if sea spurge became well established in New Zealand, it could jeopardise that,” said MPI’s director of readiness and responses, John Walsh.

“If you spot sea spurge let us know by calling the MPI exotic pest line 0800 80 99 66 and make sure to take a photo if you can.”

He said sea spurge looked like a small shrub. It can grow up to about half a metre in height and has multiple stems that are often reddish at the base, with spiky, tightly packed bluey-green leaves and greenish flowers on the end of the stems. 

It was first found in NZ in 2012. It’s believed the seeds have travelled in ocean currents from Australia where this species is invasive and widely established along the coastline.  

A severe infestation of sea spurge at Wilson Promontory in Victoria, Australia.

“Whilst you’re out and about this summer, aside from the age-old tropes of slip, slop, slap and wrap, and being a tidy kiwi – we’re asking everyone to look out for and report if they see what they think might be sea spurge,” said Mr Walsh.

“We can all work together to keep our beaches beautiful and preserve them for generations to come.”

Sea spurge has so far been found near the following places: Karekare Beach, Aotea Harbour, Mokau, Himatangi, and Karamea.  

What to do this summer if you think you’ve found sea spurge

  • Don’t disturb the sea spurge plants as it could spread the seeds.  
  • Don’t cut sea spurge or try to remove it, its sap is toxic.  
  • Take a photo of the location and a closeup of the plants.  
  • Try and get your location as accurate as possible and note it down. GPS if possible.  
  • Call 0800 80 99 66. 

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