Updated 25 Oct 2016, 7:26am
An invention from the tiny Western Australian town of Walpole that started with a toilet brush has been shipped across Australia and overseas as a weapon against a deadly plant disease.
Phytophthora cinnamomi, commonly known as dieback, is an invasive fungus that travels through soil and groundwater to attack plant's root systems.
The innovative solar-powered brush-down and wash-down contraption works by scrubbing and spraying biodegradable disinfectant to kill the fungus and slow its spread into disease-free areas.
The microscopic pathogen is the biggest threat to biodiversity in WA's south-west, which is an internationally-recognised biodiversity hotspot.
Walpole eco-warrior Gary Muir said more than 40 per cent of native plant species in WA were susceptible to the disease and over one million hectares are infested, .
"With dieback, we're the worst hit in the world in the south west of Australia," he said.
Mr Muir operates eco-tourism tours and has spent the past seven years leading a community project to protect the pristine environment from dieback outbreaks.
His 'Phyto Fighter' invention started out as a long-handled toilet brush used to remove dirt and detritus from hiking boots in 2009.
Years of tests, trials and fine-tuning has led to the development of the latest hygiene station, the Phyto Fighter 3000, designed for hikers, horse-riders, cyclists and wheelchair users.
The device is solar-powered works by scrubbing and spraying biodegradable disinfectant to kill the fungus.
Mr Muir won a $12,000 grant from the Great Southern Development Commission in 2015 for innovation and leadership in natural resource management.
Phyto Fighter 1000 units were installed in Walpole, located 430 kilometres south south-east of Perth, in 2010.
The invention soon spread from the 400-population town to national parks and nature reserves across WA, between the Perth Hills and Esperance.
The units have also attracted national and international interest as a way to combat other destructive diseases.
"We realised it could be used for any pathogen that could be carted in plant or soil moisture conditions," Mr Muir said.
Hygiene stations are used in New Zealand to protect forest from kauri dieback and Tasmanian to fight dieback, a platypus fungal disease that causes skin lesions and ulcers, and a highly invasive freshwater algae called Didymo or Rock Snot.
In Queensland, Phyto Fighters are being used to battle the Chytridiomycosis fungal disease, which has caused the mass extinctions of frogs since the 1990s, according to Mr Muir.
"It's one of the biggest amphibian killers," he said.
"Four [frog] species have become extinct in Queensland … and one of the factors that could be influencing the extinction of these frogs has been Chytrid fungus."
Last week, New South Wales National Parks ordered units to protect Kosciuszko National Park from several hundred species of a highly invasive state prohibited weed, known as hawkweeds.
Mr Muir hopes other communities will follow in Walpole's footsteps to tackle environmental threats.
"It does make you feel great that something from a little community in the bellybutton of the world can actually have an influence," he said.
"Little communities unifying together for a common problem really sets an example for the future."
First posted 25 Oct 2016, 7:24am