Ocean Currents » invasive species http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Oct 2016 18:12:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Fighting Back Against Invasive Lionfish http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/02/fighting-back-against-invasive-lionfish/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/02/fighting-back-against-invasive-lionfish/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:00:12 +0000 Andres Jimenez http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12181

Invasive lionfish are a massive problem that requires creative solutions. One of the most popular approaches to lionfish management is the lionfish derby: An all-day fishing competition where teams collect as many lionfish as possible to compete for prizes. Often, the events bring together local communities in the evening to learn about (and snack on!) lionfish.

In May, Ocean Conservancy was thrilled to help sponsor the 2016 Sebastian Lionfish Fest hosted by Indian River County, Florida. I sat down with Kendra Cope, Indian River County’s coastal environmental specialist and sea turtle coordinator, to learn more about her efforts.

OC: What inspired you to host this event on lionfish? 

Kendra: Lionfish have been seen in all coastal waters inside Indian River County, Florida (IRC) jurisdiction, including our local estuary the Indian River Lagoon. Lionfish are known predators of recreational and economically important Florida native fish like red snapper and grouper and have been observed along the county’s natural nearshore wormrock reefs and constructed artificial reefs.

This area also has a niche for those who love fresh, local, delicious foods. The area is home to many first class chefs who enjoy crafting dishes with new flavors. All of this created a great foundation for the food, fun, and educational outreach provided by the inaugural Sebastian Lionfish Fest.

OC: What are your favorite highlights from the day? 

Kendra: I was thrilled that our event featured ten coastal educational booths, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Vero Beach Marine Lab, who did lionfish stomach extractions for research and filleting demonstrations for the public. The crowds surrounded them right through the event.

We were expecting only around 200-300 people to show up, but to our surprise over 400 people came. It was the first time for quite a few folks to not only learn about the devastating impacts of the lionfish invasion but also taste the fish.

The biggest highlight for me was the number of lionfish removed as a result of this event. An estimated 1,800 lionfish was removed from Florida waters as a result of the cook-off, lionfish donated for research and taken during the fishing derby tournament!

OC: What came as the biggest surprise? 

Kendra: Our biggest surprise was the number of locals interested in being a part of the new lionfish invasion management strategy. Once people heard about how bad lionfish were, they were more than happy to help. Since the event, two local restaurants have served lionfish dishes and we believe many more will as the fishing conditions improve throughout the summer.

OC: In the meantime, is there anything you’d like to share with other coastal communities facing the same challenge? 

Kendra: My advice is to connect with local dive shops or businesses and encourage lionfish fishing tours—an idea we would like to get started here at IRC. Also, head to waterfront restaurants and see if the chef would be interested in serving a delicate delicious new fish. As Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says, “The only way to beat ‘em is to eat ‘em.”

On behalf of Indian River County I would like to thank: FWC, Ocean Conservancy, McKim and Creed, CB&I, Ecological Associates Inc., North Beach Civic Association, Sebastian Inlet District, Deep Six, Sandpiper Pest Control, Capp Custom Builders, Blue Lion Bar, Keep Florida Fishing and CSA Ocean Sciences. Also, a huge thank you to the restaurants who participated in the cook-off: Citrus Grillhouse, Captain Hiram’s, Mulligans Beach House, Kountry Kitchen, Costa D’ Este and Old Fish House. Lastly, thanks to the planning committee: Captain Hiram’s, Sebastian River Area Chamber of Commerce, MN Worldwide, Keep Indian River Beautiful and IRC.


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Lionfish: A Crash Course http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/17/lionfish-a-crash-course/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/17/lionfish-a-crash-course/#comments Thu, 17 Mar 2016 22:29:28 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11680

There’s big news in the fight against invasive lionfish. This week, Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida’s 26th District introduced a bill that would make more funding available for researchers studying lionfish in their invaded range. The bill directs the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to award $1,500,000 in higher education grants to combat lionfish, including projects that help us learn about lionfish impacts and how to mitigate them.

In honor of this newly-introduced bill, we pulled together a refresher course on the lionfish invasion. Read on to see how lionfish are impacting the ecosystem (and what people are doing about it!)

Where are lionfish from?

Originally from the Indo-Pacific, lionfish were introduced off the coast of South Florida in the mid-1980s and have since become one of the most prolific invasive marine species in the world. They can now be found on coral reefs, shipwrecks, mangroves, seagrass beds and hard ocean bottoms throughout the western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Why are lionfish a problem?

Lionfish are the “Hoover vacuums of the sea”, and dense lionfish populations can consume up to 460,000 prey fish per acre per year. Lionfish consume over 70 different species of fish and invertebrates, some of which are ecologically and economically important in the invaded range, including juvenile grouper and snapper. With no natural predators in the invaded range and very high breeding rates (one female can spawn over 2 million eggs per year!), lionfish have spread rapidly and their range continues to expand.

Distinguished by their bold stripes and spines, lionfish are a favorite in the aquarium industry. But be careful — their spines are venomous, and contain a strong neurotoxin that can cause extreme pain and swelling if injected.

What are people doing about lionfish?

Fortunately, people are fighting back. Consistent local removal efforts can greatly reduce lionfish populations, allowing native fish to rebound. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) launched a series of lionfish derbies, or all-day fishing competitions, to help decrease numbers while raising awareness about the problem. This model has been replicated in many places throughout the invaded range, and also helps provide samples for research by bringing in large amounts of fish.

Lionfish are also delicious, and many people are adopting the “gotta eat ‘em to beat ‘em” mentality. Their white, buttery meat lends itself to any number of different recipes, and many restaurants throughout the Caribbean and southern United States are featuring lionfish on their menus to promote awareness while satisfying customers.

There is still much we can learn about lionfish to help research efforts. Representative Curbelo’s bill will help us mitigate the impacts of lionfish and work towards a healthier ocean.

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The Ocean’s Least Wanted: 4 Invasive Species to Know http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/24/the-oceans-least-wanted-4-invasive-species-to-know/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/24/the-oceans-least-wanted-4-invasive-species-to-know/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 14:30:37 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11542

This week we are diving into one of the biggest conservation threats worldwide: invasive species. Defined as organisms that have been introduced into an area where they aren’t native and are negatively impacting the ecosystem, the economy and/or human health, invasive species account for $1.4 trillion in damage annually. In the United States alone, 42% of Threatened and Endangered Species are at risk due to invasives.

Some marine invasive species hitchhike on ships or in ballast water, while others are intentionally released by well-meaning but misguided aquarium owners. Regardless of how they arrive, marine invasive species put both ecosystems and economies at risk. And in a time of massive global trade where 45,000 cargo ships move more than 10 billion tons of ballast water worldwide each year, conditions are ripe for invasive species to spread.

In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, we’re delving into some marine invasives that are wreaking havoc in their non-native environments. Here are four marine invasive species you should know:

Lionfish: Armed and Delicious

Originally from the Indo-Pacific, lionfish were introduced off the coast of South Florida in the mid-1980s and have since become one of the most prolific invasive marine species in the world. Lionfish are the “Hoover vacuums of the sea,” and dense lionfish populations can consume up to 460,000 prey fish per acre per year. With no natural predators in the invaded range and very high breeding rates (one female can spawn over 2 million eggs per year!), lionfish are a huge threat to native fish in the Western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. To top it off, they have a series of venomous spines that cause extreme pain and swelling if injected.

Fortunately, people are fighting back. Consistent local removal efforts can greatly reduce lionfish populations, allowing native fish to rebound. Lionfish are also delicious, and many restaurants are adopting the “gotta eat ‘em to beat ‘em” mentality by serving the fish on their menus.

European green crab: Small but mighty

This pesky invader is bad news for the shellfish industry. Hailing from the European coast and Northern Africa, European green crabs made their invasive debut off Cape Cod in the 1800s, likely through seafood shipments or ballast water. They now have established populations on five continents, and are prolific on both U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts. European green crabs thrive in their invaded range — they will practically try to eat anything their size or smaller, and one crab can consume three-dozen small mussels a day. They’re expertly skilled at digging up and cracking young clams and oysters, and are suspected to be primarily responsible for shutting down commercial clam harvesting in some of Maine.

Management strategies include chemical control and trapping and removal programs. Some states have also tried netting juvenile clams to protect them from these voracious predators.

Northern Pacific seastar: Beautiful but deadly 

Don’t let looks deceive you: This seastar may be pretty, but it’s a deadly predator. As its name suggests, they originate from the northern Pacific region off the coasts of China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and Japan, and can now be found in southern Australia, the U.S. and Europe. They will eat almost anything they can get their arms on, including a variety of bivalves, mollusks, crustaceans and other echinoderms. This has massive implications for the economy—northern Pacific seastars are credited with an estimated billion dollar loss in the fishing industry in Tasmania. Their massive appetite combined lead northern Pacific seastars to be named one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species. For now, people rely on physical removal and the use of traps to control their populations.

Killer algae: Mean and green

The name says it all. This algae was originally from the Indian and Pacific oceans and bred for the aquarium trade, where its attractive color and hardy nature made it a favorite of hobbyists around the world. It ultimately escaped and spread throughout the Mediterranean, likely aided through aquariums dumping their tank water into local waterways. The algae quickly forms dense meadows that crowd out native algae and seagrasses, restricting food and habitat for marine life and causing immense ecological harm. To top it off, it’s highly toxic to native herbivores, so control through grazing is practically nonexistent. One study showed that native urchins would rather starve than feed on the algae.

Although there isn’t a widespread management strategy, a California outbreak was stopped by applying herbicide and covering the impacted area with a tarp.

Did we miss any must-know invasive species? Let us know in the comments below!

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“Shifts Happen”: Maine’s Fishing Communities Talk Climate Change http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/12/shifts-happen-maines-fishing-communities-talk-climate-change/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/12/shifts-happen-maines-fishing-communities-talk-climate-change/#comments Mon, 12 Aug 2013 21:00:14 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6502 Lobster boats in Maine

Photo: rkleine via Flickr

On a recent day that would otherwise have been perfect for fishing, a group of Maine fishermen and lobstermen opted to remain indoors. They gathered to discuss an issue serious enough to tie up the boats: the future of fishing in the face of climate change.

Increasing carbon pollution and its impacts on the ocean is something that may seem distant and far away for many. But fishermen are seeing changes now and living new realities today. Members of Maine’s fishing communities met recently to discuss these changes during a workshop hosted by the Island Institute, a Maine group dedicated to sustaining local coastal communities.

Shifting fish populations due to warming waters are bringing new species to Maine and pushing others out. Lobsters are more plentiful than ever, a would-be boon except for an excess of “shedders” (also thought to be because of a warming ocean) that sell for a much lower rate than the usual hard-shelled individuals.

Green crabs, an invasive species, have moved north as waters have warmed, and are eating their way through the local shoreline, leading local clammer Walt Coffin to conclude, “We’ll be out of business in two years.”

Ocean acidification is another issue fishermen are contending with today. This process is occurring because of excess carbon pollution being absorbed by the ocean, resulting in an increase in the ocean’s acidity, which spells trouble for shell-building animals. While not as immediate or visible as a swarm of invasive crabs, it also has the potential to seriously damage local industries and cripple economically important fish stocks.

We already know that ocean acidification has caused alarming losses in the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry, and the East Coast is becoming equally concerned about how acidification will impact commercially important fish species.

There is no easy answer, but there is agreement from industry, scientists and conservationists alike—we can and must do something to ensure a future for our iconic fishing and shellfish industries in the face of these threats.

Change can’t come from the waterfront alone though. Local, state and federal leadership is needed to tackle a problem of this proportion. The Maine legislature illustrated this in June, when it passed a resolution recognizing ocean acidification as “a threat to Maine’s coastal economy, communities and way of life.” The resolution cites reasons for action including the high susceptibility of the Gulf of Maine to ocean acidification and the value of fisheries to Maine’s economy (over $600 million in 2012 for those who are counting).

In light of all the challenges the New England fisheries are facing, it’s hard to even think about a future threat so dark and seemingly hard to address as climate change and ocean acidification. But the workshop was inspiring despite the dire predictions. It is clear that solutions are out there, members of the fishing community want to take action and management can respond.

In summing up the meeting that day, speaker Mike Fogarty said, “shifts happen.” The real question is how we respond to them.

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Wrangling Invasive Species in Cajun Tennis Shoes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/27/wrangling-invasive-species-in-cajun-tennis-shoes/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/27/wrangling-invasive-species-in-cajun-tennis-shoes/#comments Thu, 27 Sep 2012 21:27:21 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3076

Credit: peternijenhuis flickr stream

If I were to tell you there’s a rodeo for hunting invasive species, or that I feed my dog treats made of swamp rats, you’d probably think I have my Cajun tennis shoes (shrimp boots) on too tight. But if you go to just one of these events, you’d immediately see the innovation and creativity that is put into eradicating and raising awareness of invasive species…and that my boots fit just fine.

Rio Grande Cichlids, Nutria Rats, and Lionfish are among an already too long and growing list of invasive species that now call the Gulf Coast home. If these species don’t sound familiar, think Kudzu – the vine that ate the south. These unwelcome visitors, introduced accidentally or purposely, out-compete native species for space and resources. But the Gulf Coast is not the only area fighting invasive species; The West Coast of North America is currently grappling with debris from the Japanese tsunami and the hitchhiking creatures washing up with it.

As invasive species do what they do best, invade, the general public is joining the fight – along with governmental agencies, scientists, and environmentalists – to raise awareness of the need to remove these species and keep them from being introduced in the first place. Well, now that you’ve been through Invasive Species 101, here’s your prize: an explanation of the events I mentioned earlier.

Both Righteous Fur and Marsh Dog received a small grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to kick-start their projects, both of which have taken off. Nutriapalooza is a fashion show featuring nutria rat fur put on by Righteous Fur, whose tagline is “Save Our Wetlands: Wear More Nutria.” Their goal is to help control a destructive invasive species, raise public awareness about the need to restore the vanishing coast, and provide a stylish, eco-friendly alternative to traditional fur. But before you say “Eww! Fur!!” I encourage you to keep an open mind and visit their website.

Marsh Dog is an innovative market-based approach to solve the invasive nutria problem with dog biscuits made from nutria meat. Marsh Dog says “Owners can treat their dogs to an all-natural, sustainable treat that tastes good and does good while helping to support the fight to conserve…coastal wetlands.” My pound puppy loves them.

The Nutria Rodeo is an event created by Sassafras Louisiana to help put a dent in the nutria rat population. (Yes, there is a nutria rat hunting season in Louisiana). The organization is meant to bring the youth together in the restoration and preservation of Louisiana. Yes, you read that right, youth lead by other youths. I’d bet my last crawfish one of these young adults will have an address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington one day.

The Rio Grande Cichlid Rodeo is a fishing tournament organized by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries designed to help reduce the number of invasive Rio Grande Cichlids in New Orleans.

While these are a few of my favorite events in Louisiana, there are probably events like these near you. I encourage you to participate in something local and to learn what you can do about the growing threat of tsunami debris.

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Incredible Journey: Dock Propelled from Japan to Oregon Carries a Lesson in Biology http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/30/incredible-journey-dock-propelled-from-japan-to-oregon-carries-a-lesson-in-biology/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/30/incredible-journey-dock-propelled-from-japan-to-oregon-carries-a-lesson-in-biology/#comments Thu, 30 Aug 2012 18:09:19 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2579

Workers clean off the dock that washed ashore in Oregon. Credit: NOAA

Recently, contractors hauled away the final piece of a concrete dock weighing more than 165 tons that washed up on an Oregon beach after a 14-month journey across the Pacific Ocean. The dock was one of four that broke loose from the Japanese fishing port of Misawa during last year’s tsunami. One dock was found in Japan, a second turned up in Oregon in early June, and two are still missing.

The largest tsunami-borne object to travel across the Pacific and wash up on the West Coast so far, the dock generated immediate interest from the public. More than 1,000 people a day visited the site to pose for photos and be part of history. An enterprising artist even painted a breaking wave along one of the dock’s massive seven-foot-high sides.

Scientists at Oregon State University have been studying the impacts of invasive marine species for decades. But when the Misawa dock showed up about five miles down the coast from their Hatfield Marine Science Center, what they found defied their expectations. The Misawa dock was covered with hitchhikers: two tons of marine life – algae, crabs, shrimp, mussels, sea stars and more.

Essentially a floating island, the dock carried a complete ecosystem of Japanese coastal species, transported more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Scientists identified nearly 100 different species of sea life on the dock, including a number of species—like the brown kelp Undaria, the Asian shore crab and the North Pacific sea star—that are known to pose especially high ecological risks when introduced to new territories.

Globally, invasive species are a big deal. They can wreck havoc on natural ecosystems by out-competing native species, introducing disease, and leading to costly removal efforts. Case in point: When the Misawa dock landed on the beach, state workers launched an immediate emergency response, scraping the dock and burying everything removed, torching the dock to kill any remaining living organisms, and cutting the concrete up and hauling it to a landfill. All that took two months. And the final tab was an estimated $84,000.

Many are wondering if more tsunami debris items might show up soon bearing unwanted visitors. Only time will tell. But beyond the biology lesson, this dock has also become a fitting emblem for the enduring strength of the Japanese people. Workers at the salvage company saved one concrete chunk from the landfill. This piece of the dock will become part of a tsunami memorial to be installed in the Hatfield Marine Science Center – a fitting tribute to the human and biological impacts of the tsunami.

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