Sustainability Code 6. Biosecurity

Biosecurity for kayakers
What is biosecurity? Put simply, it’s stopping the spread of biological particles. So, during the pandemic we all practiced social distancing and washed our hands thoroughly to avoid catching or passing on a virus. Similarly, we try to avoid bringing organisms from one river system to another. These are known as “invasive species”. Think of the problems Japanese knotweed is causing. Many countries have serious problems with invasive species and are taking precautions.

New Zealand has an algae called didymo that arrived from Asia and is spreading, killing off local species in rivers it infects. It now has strict laws regarding water sports, fishing and hiking. All gear must be disinfected prior to arrival (checked at the airport) and then when moving from one river system to another you must disinfect again. Kayak shops sell disinfectant sprays. Spain has a similar system and there you must get a licence to paddle (free), certifying that you will obey their biosecurity rules. Heavy fines for those who ignore them.
In Ireland until recently, biosecurity hasn’t had much of a profile. Killarney National Park has a system in place for the lakes but that’s the only one I know of. But we do have invasive species. In Leinster and Tipperary there’s something called Crayfish Plague that’s killing off crayfish. So if you paddle the Liffey Descent, or at Clonmel slalom course, you should consider your gear infected. And there’s a risk from Zebra mussels too.

So, what can we do as individuals and as a club? If all you do is the occasional trip on the Bandon River and you go nowhere else, then nothing. But if you travel to paddle and particularly if you paddle in a known infected area then we do need to take certain steps.

1. Inform yourself. Know the potential biosecurity risks of the area you’re paddling.
2. Clean, dry, disinfect.

The best way of killing invasive species is to clean and dry your gear. So empty water from your boat when you exit the river and then dry it and your gear thoroughly. Of course, in winter in Ireland that can be difficult. Especially if paddling several days in a row. So, I prefer the New Zealand method, spray disinfectant on the hull and leave for 10 min.

I use a product called Virkon (there are others). I keep a small pressure sprayer in my van (€4 from a discount supermarket) and 2 tablets will last me 6 months or more. If you don’t need something regularly, use what’s in the house. (Milton very dilute bleach solution or hot soapy water) Brush or spray the outside of your hull then slop some inside and sluice it around a bit.

It doesn’t need to be a big drama in our paddling lives, but a few simple steps will keep our rivers safe and protect our native species. And isn’t that worth doing?