Recreational vessel networks reveal potential hot spots for marine pest introduction and spread

Kyle Hilliam, Eric A. Treml, Simone Stevenson, Oliver Floerl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recreational vessels are an important pathway for spreading marine non-indigenous species (NIS) around coastal environments globally. However, most vessels are not tracked, limiting our ability to map their movements and identify locations at greater risk of NIS introductions. Using New Zealand as a case study, we quantified spread and risk patterns of recreational vessel movements, using a web-based survey allowing the more than 1,800 respondents to map significant trips with over 12,000 visits. These vessel routes were used to build a network model representing nationwide recreational vessel movements. Two proxies were used to quantify the risk of introduction of marine NIS: (i) incoming hull length and (ii) cumulative residency periods at sites. There was significant variation in the distances travelled, the destinations they visited and the duration of their stays. New Zealand's recreational boating network contained 317 destinations with over 4,000 unique connections, concentrated within two distinct areas of the country. Network-based metrics and risk proxies quantified the relative importance of domestic locations as incursion or spreading hubs for NIS. This approach highlighted several areas that pose high relative biosecurity risk within the national network, but are underrepresented within current surveillance programmes. Synthesis and applications. Our study demonstrates how the movement dynamics of recreational vessels can be quantified at a regional scale to inform proactive management. The identification of spreading hubs and locations at particular risk of NIS introductions, enables managers to design risk-based and effective surveillance and monitoring programmes. Our network-based approach to determine the biosecurity implications posed by recreational vessels is transferable to other parts of the world. It enables managers to understand the distribution of risk within an area of interest (e.g. a jurisdiction) and develop optimised approaches for mitigating impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1716-1727
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number7
Early online date18 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2024


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