Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are plants, animals and other organisms that are not native to local waterways (oceans, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams). In order for these species to survive, the invaded habitat needs to be covered with water throughout most of the year. Invasive plants include algae, floating plants, bottom plants, and plants that have roots in the bottom, but emerge with blooms above the surface. Invasive animals include a wide variety of fish, reptiles, mollusks, and insects. In addition; molds, fungi, bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing organisms can live in the water and be invasive. The danger posed by invasive species is that the invaded habitats lack local predators that can attack the invaders. As a result these invasive species cause harm to local economies, it’s environment, and to human health.
Causes for the Spread of AIS … Aquatic invasive species come from many sources. In some cases they are caused by weather events, in others they are spread by commercial and recreational boaters. For instance, ballast water from commercial ships is one source of aquatic invasive species. Sometimes animals enter the ballast tanks when they are being filled. Once the ship arrives, the ballast water is pumped out, unintentionally allowing aquatic invasive species to enter a new habitat. The European Green Crab arrived to our Northern Atlantic shores through ballast water. Sea Walnuts were inadvertently transported to the Black and Caspian Seas in ballast water too. Once there they consumed local plant life resulting in the many local fish dying from starvation . Lion Fish escaped a Florida aquarium as a result of damage caused by a hurricane (it may have been as few as six fish released). Once free they spread rapidly into the Caribbean Sea and are aggressively spreading north. Here they have no predators to stop them from eating local fish. Lastly, Asian Carp are perhaps the best known aquatic invasive species in the United States. In their case, heavy rains caused flood waters that then damaged containment ponds to the point where many of these Carps were released into the Ohio River. From there they entered the Mississippi river. Today Asian Carps are wide spread, and are beginning to be found in the Great Lakes.
Hold on to Your Aquatic Pets, and Plants … While it may seem kind to set a pet fish or turtle free, this well intended release poses a threat. For example, the Red Ear Slider is included in the list of the world’s 100 most invasive species. Overall millions of exotic fishes that include thousands of fish species enter the United States each year. To date 100 species of non-native fishes have invaded U.S. waters, and these breeding populations are spreading. It is estimated that more than half of these invaders arrived through the release of home aquarium exotic fish. So, before releasing your pet fish, keep in mind that aquatic invasive species are a very large worldwide problem. Natural habitats are disrupted, local economies are damaged, native species are being attacked. Remember too that even small aquatic animals can spread disease and parasites.
Be Part of the Solution … Invasive species are found in practically every ecosystem in the world - including our streams, rivers, lakes, harbors, bays, sounds, and oceans. No matter where you live, opportunities exist to volunteer your time to local organizations that address the issues posed by aquatic invasive species. You can contact your state or national park’s websites to see if they host educational activities related to the control of aquatic invasive fish and plants. As an example, the States of New Hampshire, Virginia, and Massachusetts have training programs that address aquatic invasive plants. Through these programs you can become a “Weed Warrior” and are certified to remove plants on state property. It’s easy to combine invasive species removal with other recreation too. For instance, if you are a diver spearfish for lionfish, or engage in fishing contests that target Asian Carp. Alternatively, you can support local invasive vegetation clean up days.
The Role Local Boaters can Play … If you enjoy any kind of water based activity, part of this recreation could be targeted at helping to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Whether you are a boater, fisherman, paddle craft owner, seaplane owner, water gardener, pond owner, nursery owner, or aquarium enthusiast, you have a very important role to play in helping to keep your aquatic environment healthy. The main way aquatic invasive species spread to new waters is often by hitching a ride on boat bottoms and trailers. Similarly, other aquatic invasive plants and animals are introduced into lakes and streams through accidental and sometimes intentional pet releases. Additionally, invasive plant species such as zebra mussels, water hyacinth and Brazilian waterweed pose serious threats to local water systems, dams, hydroelectric facilities, farms, boats, fish and the aquatic environment as a whole. Recreational activities, including boating and fishing, can unwittingly aid the spread of aquatic invasive species out of infested waters and into un-infested waters. As you can imagine, invasive species are a very serious worldwide problem. You can learn more about opportunities to volunteer from the environmental agencies in your Town, City, or State.