Kiwi kids learn how to keep pests out in new AgResearch biosecurity board game

With Mycoplasma bovis and myrtle rust becoming household names, New Zealand is vulnerable to more biosecurity threats than ever before.

A new board game developed by an AgResearch scientist is recruiting Kiwi kids in the fight against unwelcome pests.

The students at Welcome Bay School are on the front line against a foreign invasion.

Some of the enemy forces are familiar names, some less so - but all have the potential to cost New Zealand dearly if they take hold.

"Our whole economy here in New Zealand relies on us remaining free from a lot of the pests and diseases which plague other countries," says John Kean, the scientist who developed Invasion Busters.

The game requires students to prevent pests getting into the country, and then if they do, control the spread and eradicate them. Mr Kean says it can teach some valuable lessons to the country's youth.

"We came up with something which I think is a pretty nice encapsulation of the biosecurity system in New Zealand, and helps to teach the kids the importance of biosecurity, how challenging it is, and the kinds of places that they can fit into the system and make a contribution."

For the younger kids, that contribution includes being able to identify the bugs if they see them - a challenge that teacher Katreena Daniels says has been met with enthusiasm.

"They're really excited about the fact that they can actually do stuff to help as well, which is something we're aiming for."

The more senior classes have to learn about the challenges of managing an infestation if it occurs.

"I've learnt that pests are hard to get out of New Zealand because you've got to go through stages," says one student. "There's like small population, medium population, large population and widespread, where it's all over."

For the game's creator, it's about raising awareness that biosecurity isn't just best left to the experts.

"Biosecurity is a New Zealand-wide thing, and we all need to be thinking about it."