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The search for invasive species

August 9, 2013

(Photo By Maria Shanahan) A researcher holds a sample of the various invasive species called “sea squirts” on Wednesday at Allen Harbor Marina in North Kingstown.

A team of marine scientists and Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council staff conducted an aquatic invasive species survey at locations across the state this week.

The team began in Maine on Sunday and worked in Rhode Island Wednesday and Friday looking under docks, piers and coastal locations, investigating the coastline for the presence and spread of marine aquatic invasive species.
On Wednesday, the team surveyed Point Judith Marina in South Kingstown, Allen Harbor Marina in North Kingstown and Port Edgewood Marina in Cranston.
On Friday, the team plans to visit Fort Adams State Park boat basin in Newport.
While monitoring invasive species at Allen Harbor Marina, Dr. James T. Carlton, a professor of marine science at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., said the researchers are spending the week working 14-hour days to identify the species.
He said they began Sunday in Maine and will monitor marine aquatic invasive species all the way down to the Long Island Sound.
An invasive species is defined as a “non-indigenous species that threatens the diversity or abundance of native species or the ecological stability of infested waters, or commercial, agricultural, aquaculture or recreational activities on these waters,” according to the CRMC.
These species are considered to be second only to direct habitat destruction as a cause of declining biodiversity in native species.
Carlton said they begin around 7 a.m. on docks and piers collecting species. Once they have gathered enough samples, around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. they head to a lab where the work to catalog and identify the species they gathered until about 9 p.m. or later.
The team is using the Brown University lab while in Rhode Island for their research.
Carlton said every three to five years the team re-surveys ports, docks, harbors and marinas to obtain a “baseline” of information on invasive species and to detect any new species.
“We need to keep a fairly fine finger on the pulse of change her in biodiversity,” Carlton said.
Carlton said the “hope” of the survey is not to find anything new. If they do, they must study the new species and its distribution throughout the area and its impact to native species.
Carlton said in Maine the team found one or two smaller things that they’re unsure of what they are, stressing that they weren’t very large.
At the end of all the monitoring, Carlton said a report is written and a “snapshot” is established regarding the species in the areas monitored, so when the team returns in 2016, they can say with confidence whether a species has been there before or whether something is new.
The samples are kept, Carlton said, and are sent to museums, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.
Species that have invaded Rhode Island waters include the European green crab, the Asian shore crab, lace bryozan, Codium fragile (a green algae), the red macroalgae Grateloupia turuturu, various colonial and solitary sea squirts and several shellfish pathogens.
Lauren Stefaniak, a post-doctoral fellow in marine science at the University of Connecticut, and Jen Dijkstra, an affiliate assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, were examining species on the dock in North Kingstown.
They said some sea squirts have been in Rhode Island for more than 100 years. Others have been around since the 1970s and 1980s. Stefaniak said the native species is known as “sea grapes.”
Other invasive species of concern, due to their proximity to Rhode Island and/or those with a high potential for environmental and economic damage, include: veined Rapa whelk, Chinese mitten crab, Suminoe oyster, Pacific oyster, Caulerpa (a species of seaweed) and Japanese kelp.
Stefaniak and Dijkstra said the invasive species enter Rhode Island waters through different means including on boat hulls and a host of other vehicles.
The Rhode Island Aquatic Invasive Species plan is “the first comprehensive effort to assess the impacts of threats of aquatic invasive species in Rhode Island,” according to the CRMC.
Developed and implemented on the state level by CRMC, the survey “prioritizes state agency leadership for action including monitoring coastal and freshwater resources, contributing to a regional database on the presence and distribution of [aquatic invasive species], developing various education initiatives, preventing [aquatic invasive species] introductions, controlling their spread and where possible, eradicating particularly harmful organisms.
CRMC conducted the survey with the assistance of professors, researchers and students from several universities as well as the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management; the Rhode Island Bays, Rivers and Watersheds Coordination Team; the Casco Bay Estuary Program; the Piscataqua River Estuary Partnership; the Massachusetts Bays Program; and the Buzzards Bay program.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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