Sabella Small Scale Management Programme

A declaration on 1 July 2017 established a programme to manage and eradicate the Mediterranean Famworm - Sabella - in the Tasman District. Parallel declarations have also beeen made in the Marlborough District and Nelson City areas.


The purpose of the programme is to eradicate Sabella or to reduce its spread. The programme seeks to achieve that through:

  • surveillance;
  • monitoring and information collecting;
  • direct control of any Sabella found;
  • district-wide advocacy initiatives;
  • Risk mitigation practices through the aquaculture industry; and
  • regulation where appropriate under the Biosecurity Act.  

Because Sabella is not named as a pest in the Regional Pest Management Plan, the Council has to use Small Scale Management Plan powers under the Biosecurity Act.

Declaration of a small Scale Management plan allows Council to use those powers to ensure vessels and structures are maintained clear of Sabella.

What is Sabella?

Sabella is an introduced, tube-dwelling fanworm that attaches itself to natural and artificial surfaces (eg, rocks, vessels and structures) in subtidal marine environments. Since 2008 it has become well established in many parts of the country (Whangarei, Waitemata, Lyttelton and Tauranga Harbours and on the Coromandel Peninsula).

Surveillance in the Top of the South area from 2013 onwards has found small number of Sabella on commercial and recreational vessels and marine structures. It is poised to spread to marine farms and into natural ecosystems. Co-ordinated and timely responses are required to slow and contain the spread. The Mediterranean fanworm is a marine animal that is infests coastal waters and is typically found in harbours and estuaries, living in depths of anywhere between one to 30 metres.

It consists of a segmented worm living inside a tube which is usually fixed to a hard surface. The worm has a single spiral fan (radiole) which extends out of the top of the tube. The tube is tough and flexible and often muddy in appearance. It can often have other organisms growing on the surface.

Sabella can grow to 600mm in length and establish in densities up to 1000 per square metre effectively smothering other marine organisms and competing for food. 

How Does It Spread?

Sabella is easily transported to new locations on dirty boat hulls and inside vessels pipework particularly underwater intakes and discharges.

Current Situation

The first Sabella detection was made at Port Tarakohe in September 2016. 

In all, 12 adult fanworms were removed from the port structures and around the marina, funded by Tasman District Council (cost $6,000).  

As at January 2017, planning was underway to determine the levels of future surveillance needed for this area (covered in SSMP Operational Plan).

During June 2017 a full survey and clearance of Sabella from Port Tarakohe was undertaken removing a further 25 Sabella.

Repeat surveys for and clearance of Port Tarakohe for Sabella are programmed over the next 3 years with the intention of removing any Sabella which may re-establish.

Sabella is also present in very low numbers in Nelson Harbour and in the Picton / Waikawa Bay areas. All three Councils are working together on the management programme.