Soiled Stowaways

Steel beasts lumber
over ocean waves,
their bellies full
of freight
and salt
and soil.
There’s a pulse
in every grain,
a rhythm
and a beat –
each granule,
a silent scream,
a quiet plea,
from lands unknown.
Echoes of places
never meant
to be heard
so far –
the subtle,
loamy whisper
of tainted paths
the sea.

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that soil carried on sea freight is loaded with dangerous pests and diseases.

Shipping containers and machinery from overseas can unintentionally bring foreign soil into a country. This soil could contain various organisms, some of which may harm the local environment and agriculture. Thus, understanding what is in this soil is crucial to prevent potential ecological or agricultural issues.

In this study, researchers examined soil on shipping containers and machinery entering New Zealand’s ports. Various regulated biosecurity organisms were recovered from the samples, including plant-parasitic worms, seeds, insects and spiders that were not recorded as being present in New Zealand. The study found that compared to soil on footwear, sea freight poses a lower risk, but assessing the biggest threat between different entry points remains challenging. As such, this research underscores the importance of monitoring and managing entry pathways to protect a country’s biosecurity.

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