Have you ever heard of sea spurge? It's bad news for our southern beaches and we're calling on you to help control its spread.
A close up photo of the sea spurge plant on a beach.

Sea spurge grows at Jervis Bay in New South Wales

A sandy beach covered in toxic sea spurge plants can quickly make a visit to the beach unpleasant. Sea spurge, Euphorbia paralias, is a major plant invader of our beautiful southern beaches and it continues to spread. 

The plant causes environmental problems along many beaches, outcompeting native plants and changing natural patterns of sand movement. It’s also a worry for endangered shorebirds that use the open sand for nesting.  

Our scientists have found a fungus, Venturia paralias, that is highly specific to sea spurge. This fungus was recently approved for release as a biocontrol agent of the plant in Australia. We hope it will help manage this weed that invades beaches from Perth in Western Australia to the mid-north coast of New South Wales, and around Tasmania’s coastline.  

Our research scientist, Dr Gavin Hunter explained that classical biocontrol is where we use the weed’s own enemy against it. To find a plant’s natural enemy with biocontrol potential, we need to travel to the native home of the plant and perform extensive field surveys. 

“We’re always excited when our research leads us to find promising biocontrol agents to manage major weeds, especially toxic ones like sea spurge,” Gavin said.

“We’ll be able to use the fungus we found on sea spurge alongside existing management practices to keep the weed at manageable levels.”  

Managing sea spurge done by fungi

This fungus (Venturia paralias) is native to Europe. It was first collected in France from diseased sea spurge plants. Studied extensively, the fungus infects the leaves and spreads to the stems where it causes lesions. Additionally, severe infections can lead to stem collapse. Our research found the fungus is highly specific towards sea spurge. Based on our results, the fungus was approved by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) for release in Australia.  

The high humidity of coastal environments should favour the growth and sporulation of the fungus. Also, prevailing winds should contribute to its spread along the coastline so that it can infect other sea spurge plants. We hope that once released at several sites, the fungus will readily establish and gradually cause disease on sea spurge plants and reduce their ability to produce seeds in the long term. 

A microscopic image of the sea spurge biocontrol fungus, Venturia paralias

Spores of the biocontrol fungus, Venturia paralias

Citizen scientists, we want you 

Severe infestations of sea spurge occur in Tasmania and Victoria. These infestations are the likely source of seeds that spread via ocean currents and invade beaches in New South Wales. So to help stop the spread, the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust has committed to financially support releases of the recently approved biocontrol agent in Tasmania and Victoria. 

Keen to participate in a community release of the biocontrol agent? Here’s how you can get involved. If you are in Victoria or Tasmania and identify an infestation, you need to obtain approval from the land manager or owner of the site to make a release. Once you have approval, contact us.  

When sites become selected for release, we will send you a kit. The kits will contain the fungus and an explanation of how to inoculate the sea spurge plants with the biocontrol agent. Lastly, we encourage you to inspire others to take part, including existing volunteer groups.

A group of penguins walking at night time.

Little penguins returning to their nests.

5 comments

  1. Having spent seven seasons eradicating sea spurge in Tasmania’s remote southwest, I really hope the fungus knocks it back enough to slow or stop further infestations. The local plants and wildlife depend on their native habitat which sea spurge destroys, so it has to go! It may be a lovely plant in Europe where it’s a native (we’ve seen it in Spain), BUT NOT HERE!

    There’s hardly a beach on Flinders Island without spurge so it’d be a good place to spread the fungus. We saw it on the beach at Eucla, SA, way back in 1999 when we didn’t know it was a weed, I hate to think what it’s like there now.

  2. This is a lovely plant please dont get rid of it

  3. Like Tracy Skippings (above) I ask if/when DAWE will approve the release of this biocontrol in WA? And if yes, how long after DAWE’s approval could WA community groups expect to be releasing this biocontrol?

    Rottnest Island is a Euphorbia paralias hotspot which, due to it being an island, disperses seeds in every direction.

  4. What about including South Australia?? We have an infestation here at Cape Douglas on the coast, 35km from the Victorian border. We are continually pulling it up out of our garden. It is rampid with another weed on the foreshore.

  5. Sounds good. Bit like the rust they/you introduced to control Bridal Creeper. HOpe it works well and it can be brought into WA south west beaches and coastal areas.

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