America’s Battle Royale Against Invasive Species

America's Battle Royale Against Invasive Species

October 13, 2016 5:00 am
Close-up, side view of goldfish swimming in an aquarium. (Getty Images)
Close-up, side view of goldfish swimming in an aquarium. (Getty Images)
FILE - In this June 13, 2012 file photo, Asian carp, jolted by an electric current from a research boat, jump from the Illinois River near Havana, Ill. A years-long effort to find a strategy to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes appears to be coming up empty. An advisory panel considering options is scheduled to go out of business Thursday, still deadlocked. (AP Photo/John Flesher, File)
Asian carp, jolted by an electric current from a research boat, jump from the Illinois River near Havana, Ill.  (John Flesher/AP)

“What lit the fuse was humans traveling more.” So says Nicholas J. Schroeck, director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne State University Law School, in reference to the nationwide explosion in invasive species populations. (Full disclosure: The author of this piece is friends with the professor.) Schroeck, who is also an assistant clinical professor, has studied the ill effects of invasive species for a decade, with expertise in the area of the Asian carp. (The fish, unlike some invasive species, were brought over to the U.S. intentionally to help clean up catfish farming lagoons and treat sewage. But when they escaped their environs all ecological hell broke loose.)

If you’re unfamiliar with the problem of invasive species, it’s been a pervasive one for centuries. What happens is everything from foreign cargo ships to Uncle Bob’s fishing boat find their way into different ports, unknowingly carrying weeds or the eggs of an invasive species, and boom! A new creature gets introduced into the environment and has an adverse effect on its native or endangered/protected species. In the Great Lakes region alone, says Schroeck, there are over 180 invasive species that have been shuttled in via international shipping and have now set up shop for good.

What can the average Joe do to prevent this sort of thing from happening? Well, beyond making sure your boat is properly cleaned before putting down anchor in a new area—and supporting all the invasive species–hunting contests out there—it’s pretty simple: be responsible. Says Schroeck:

“If you are really into [your] aquarium, [buy fish] from reputable dealers that aren’t selling you fish that shouldn’t have been caught or bred in the first place. And then [don’t release] them into the wild. It could potentially lead to all types of problems.”

That exact issue recently reared its ugly head, when a monster goldfish turned up in Australia. (Click here for more on the “feral goldfish invasion.”) “The ‘goldfish problem’ is similar to the threat from Asia carp,” says Schroeck. “With goldfish, the problem is humans. Specifically, people who release goldfish into surface waters where they can often thrive, eat a lot, and reproduce.” 

The invasive species problem isn’t just costly to local ecosystems; it hits us all in our wallets as well. Schroeck notes that it’s been estimated that the Asian carp problem could cost $7 billion for the sport and commercial fishing industries in the Great Lakes region alone.

Below, take a look at some of the worst invasive species, along with notes about each of them from Schroeck.

Steve Tyscko holds a carp in Havana, Illinois March 11, 2011. ( John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images)
( John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images)
Corbis via Getty Images

Asian Carp (China)
Origin: China
How They Arrived: Imported to the U.S. to help clean ponds, as well as for sewage treatment purposes
“A very significant threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem and Great Lakes fisheries. They are voracious eaters and reproduce faster than rabbits. The concern is that they will completely destroy the food chain.” 

Close-up, side view of goldfish swimming in an aquarium. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

: China
How They Arrived: Introduced as pets in 1850s
“The lesson here is that people should not release pets from their aquarium into the natural environment.”

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 28: A northern snakehead fish swims in a tank at the Academy of Natural Sciences April 28, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Richard Horwitz, a senior biologist with the Academy of Natural Sciences and his team caught 15 northern snakehead, whose scientific name is Channa Argus, in FDR Park two days ago. The northern snakehead can grow to several feet in size, crawl on land for short distances, and is native to Asia and Africa. Scientists fear the fish, with its voracious appetite, can destroy or severely harm the ecosystem. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
(William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Snakehead Fish
Origin: Africa/Asia
How They Arrived: Introduced intentionally as a source of food
“They look creepy with their shiny teeth. Without native predators, they can jump in line to the top of the food chain in an ecosystem and cause problems for many species. They can survive on land for three or four days as long as they are wet. And they can ‘walk’ on land by wiggling their bodies and pushing along with their fins.”

** ADVANCE FOR THE WEEKEND, APRIL 21-22 ** In a photo provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a group of zebra mussels, taken from Lake Erie, are seen in an undated photo. Shipping companies, scientists and environmentalists have long debated how to stop the onslaught of exotic species such as zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. Now, lawyers are getting involved. Many of the 183 invasive species known to inhabit the lakes arrived in ballast water dumped by oceangoing ships. A Michigan law that took effect this year requires freighters to sterilize ballast before discharging it into the state's waters. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/AP)
(U.S. Department of Agriculture/AP)

Zebra Mussels
: Eastern Europe
How They Arrived: Oceangoing ships via the St. Lawrence Seaway
“The Zebra Mussel, which was introduced to the Great Lakes through oceangoing ships, has upended the Great Lakes ecosystem. They are filter feeders, and they have eaten up many of the small organisms that other native species depend upon.”

Asian Stink Bug (Deepak Matadha/AP)
(Deepak Matadha/AP)

Asian Stink Bug
Origin: Asia
How They Arrived: Accidentally, via shipping crates

“These are a big threat to agriculture. They feed on apples, peaches, [and] corn, damaging the produce. Their ‘stink’ can cause allergic reactions in some people.”

FILE- In this undated file photo provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, an adult emerald ash borer is shown. Millions of tiny wasps as small as a grain of rice have been released into wooded areas in 23 states as the battle against the emerald ash borer turns biological. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has researched and approved for release in the U.S. four species of parasitic wasps that naturally target the larval and egg stages of the ash borer. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources/AP)
(Minnesota Department of Natural Resources/AP)

Emerald Ash Borer
Origin: Asia
How They Arrived: Cargo ships or airplanes
“This little critter, native to Asia, kills ash trees with [only] a few years of infestation. The larvae eat the underside of the tree back, sapping the trees of nutrients and eventually killing them.” 

Inland Seas Education Association reported the first finding of a Round Goby fish in the Grand Traverse Bay Tuesday, June 22, 2004. The Round Goby originates in the Caspian Sea and is thought to have hitch hick in the bilge of a ship into the Great Lakes. The fish was first reported in the Great Lakes in 1990 when one was found in the St. Claire River. The round goby appears to be making its way up the Rouge River in southeast Michigan, raising concerns among those working to improve the health of the waterway. A team on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 found more than a dozen of the greedy predators while sampling sections of the Lower Rouge River in Inkster, said Sally Petrella of the nonprofit group Friends of the Rouge. (Douglas Tesner/Traverse City Record-Eagle/AP)
(Douglas Tesner/Traverse City Record-Eagle/AP)

Round Goby
Origin: Eurasia (Black Sea/Caspian Sea)
How They Arrived: Cargo ships
“[N]ative to the Black and Caspian seas. They can out-compete native fish and survive in areas of poor water quality. They have been found to eat Zebra Mussels, another invasive species, but they don’t eat enough of the mussels to eliminate them. They are also known to steal bait off of fishing hooks!”

Spiny Water Flea (NOAA)

Spiny Water Flea
Origin: Eurasia
How They Arrived: International cargo ships
“They are native to Europe and Asia, [and] eat zooplankton and Daphnia, small organisms that are [at] the base of the Great Lakes food web. They also cause a nuisance on fishing lines by clogging the eyelets on fishing poles.”

Nutria (Getty Images)
Nutria (Getty Images)
Getty Images/Nature Picture Libr

Origin: South America
How They Arrived: Intentionally imported for their fur in 1930s
“They are large ‘river rats’ that destroy marshlands across the southern United States. They were introduced in order to farm them for their fur, but they eventually escaped and have been causing serious problems in wetland areas ever since.” 

Adult female Burmese python (Python molurus), escaped captive, Everglades National Park, Florida.
(Getty Images)
Getty Images/All Canada Photos

Origin: Africa/Asia/Australia

Origin: South America
How They Arrived: Introduced as household pets; escaped or intentionally let into the wild
Anacondas have become a problem in Florida, along with pythons, which have received more attention. Anacondas are illegal to own in Florida for personal use, because if they escape or are released, they can decimate the ecosystem by eating native wildlife. Native to South America, they can grow to around 20 feet in length, and can move very quickly in the water.”

Will Levith, RealClearLife

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