Three motel cleaners have been hailed as heroes after spotting a nasty invasive insect that has the potential to decimate New Zealand's horticultural industry.
James Trevelyan, the managing director of Trevelyan's Pack & Cool Ltd and a long-time kiwifruit grower in Te Puke, said the cleaners found the brown marmorated stink bug in separate discoveries in Christchurch, Whitianga and New Plymouth earlier this year.
Investigations by the Ministry for Primary Industries concluded the bugs hitch-hiked here in luggage from predominately American visitors.
"Those housekeepers are the unsung heroes of New Zealand horticulture," Trevelyan said.
"If this bug comes in it'll decimate home gardens and damage a number of valuable export crops like kiwifruit, apples, grapes, citrus and stone fruit. They're shockers."
In a media release, Trevelyan said pressure at the border was at an all-time high, with 130 bugs found and stopped over spring and summer.
The serious horticultural pest could cause significant fruit loss once it became established and the risk of it entering New Zealand was now considered 'extreme'.
The bugs are found to have a voracious appetite and are resistant to many insecticides, making them challenging and expensive to control. Their population has exploded across Europe (particularly Italy), Asia and the United States. Over winter, the bugs tend to gather in large numbers in homes where they become an unsightly and smelly nuisance.
Trevelyan said the current situation was a good example of why the Ministry for Primary Industries' target, of training New Zealand's entire population to become a biosecurity team of 4.7 million people by 2025, was so important.
"I love MPI's vision; it's fantastic. But I believe we need more public awareness and education about what these bugs look like so everyone can keep their eyes peeled and report sightings before a population becomes established."
Trevelyan lost a good portion of his 5ha kiwifruit crop to the vine-killing disease Psa in 2011 and 2012.
"I know the risk of an incursion. Our orchard was just decimated, and the current biosecurity situation worries the heck of out of me," he said.
Trevelyan said he would like to see 'live billboard updates' installed at every port and airport in New Zealand showing what pests have been caught there the previous week.
"And that information must include pictures, so people know what to look for. I believe we need to use all the data available within MPI to help explain to the public what the situation is for all pests - and what's at stake - because we have a lot to lose."
MPI has already introduced new import regulations for vehicles and machinery to try and prevent the arrival of the stink bugs. Travellers are reminded to check their luggage and people opening parcels or mail from overseas are also asked to take care. Adult brown marmorated stink bugs are about the size of a $1 coin. Any sightings can be reported to MPI on 0800 80 99 66.