Monday, February 21, 2011

Week of February 21, 2011

Updated 2/25/11

In Md., felt boots blamed for invasive 'rock snot'

Associated Press

rock_snotMONKTON, Md. — As an algae with a gross nickname invades pristine trout streams across the U.S., Maryland is about to become the first state to enforce a ban on a type of footgear the organism uses to hitchhike from stream to stream: felt-soled fishing boots.

The state Department of Natural Resources plans to prohibit wading with felt soles starting March 21 to curb the spread of invasive organisms that can get trapped in the damp fibers and carried from one body of water to another.

Similar bans will take effect April 1 in Vermont and next year in Alaska, aimed especially at didymo, a type of algae that coats riverbeds with thick mats of yellow-brown vegetation commonly called "rock snot."

Maryland fishery regulators say didymo, short for Didymosphenia geminata, can smother aquatic insect larvae such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies that are favored food for trout....

Read the full story here.

Photo: Biosecurity New Zealand


Coalition Urges US to Prevent Invasive Pests from Canada

New York Ag Connection - 02/21/2011

A collaboration of diverse interests aimed at addressing the threat of non-native insects and diseases is urging the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to subject wood packaging material from Canada to the same requirements other countries must follow for this material before it can enter the country. Currently, the governments of the United States and Canada exempt each other from the requirements of the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures #15, which requires that wood packaging -- primarily crates, spools, and pallets -- coming from other countries be treated to help prevent the spread of invasive insects and diseases to native trees and plants.

The USDA is currently considering an amendment to the regulations for the importation of unmanufactured wood articles to remove the exemption. Canada is second only to China in providing imports to the United States, and these goods move primarily in wood packaging to all areas of the country. If the USDA amends the regulation, Canada is expected to take similar action because of the threat of non-native insects and diseases that could arrive on the wood packaging from the United States....

Read the full story at link.


VIDEO: Invasive emerald ash borer upsets Great Lakes ecosystem, economy

The invasive, tree-eating emerald ash borer is a costly addition to the Great Lakes region.

It took less than 10 years for the destructive beetle to spread to all eight Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces. State officials and homeowners employ insecticides, tree-removal strategies, bans on moving firewood and even biological controls to prevent further costly infestations.

The video includes footage from the one-hour documentary “Bad Company,” a Knight Center for Environmental Journalism production that examines the economic and ecological impact of invasive species in the Great Lakes region. A preview of the documentary will be held Monday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Synder Hall theater at Michigan State University.

View the video at the website of the Great Lakes Echo here.


Invasive Animals Continue to Thrive in Maryland

Northern snakeheads and nutria, some of Maryland's more well-known invasive animals, are continuing to push out many of the state's native species and doing harm to ecosystems. These invasive species were allowed into this country under a law governing animal imports, which was passed in 1900, and has not been changed since that time.

According to the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species, updating this federal legislation, the Lacey Act, will prevent the future introduction of potentially harmful non-native wildlife species and the diseases they carry.

“In this globalized world, animals are traded across continents every day, and the rules governing the live animal trade in this country need to be brought into the 21stCentury,” said Dr. Phyllis Windle, NECIS spokesperson. “Adding a pre-import screening process will prevent the arrival of animals that can potentially harm the ecosystem and economy, endanger native species, or compromise the health of people and animals in this country.”

Nutria, large aquatic rodents native to South America and initially imported to Louisiana, became established in Maryland when a few animals escaped from a fur farm in the 1940s. Nutria are voracious consumers of the vegetation of tidal marshlands, leaving mudflats in their place. Over the past six years, wildlife managers have removed more than 13,000 nutria from the wetlands of the Chesapeake's Eastern Shore.

Northern snakeheads, imported for the Asian food market, were first discovered in 2002 in a Crofton, MD, pond where they were released by someone who no longer wanted them. Although the snakeheads were eradicated from the pond, they began appearing in the Potomac River in 2004, apparently as the result of a subsequent release.

The species is now well established in the Potomac River and several of its tributaries in Maryland and Virginia, and is competing with other species for food and habitat.

Read the full story at


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Week of February 7, 2011

Ships' ballast tanks getting new rules

Big_ShipInvasive species carried in the tanks have threatened many U.S. ecosystems

The Associated Press

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - After decades of delay, government officials are beginning to crack down on cargo ships that allow foreign invasive species to hitchhike to U.S. waters, where they have turned ecosystems upside down and caused billions of dollars in economic losses.

UC Davis research scientist Marion Wittmann holds a handful of Asian clams removed from the bottom of the lake near South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Government officials are beginning to crack down on cargo ships that allow foreign invasive species to hitchhike to U.S. waters.

Organisms as large as adult fish and as small as bacteria lurk in ship ballast tanks, which hold millions of gallons of water and sediments that keep vessels upright in rough seas. When the soupy mixtures are dumped in harbors as freight is taken on, the stowaways often find hospitable surroundings and no natural predators. They spread rapidly, starving out native species and spreading diseases in aquatic life.

Since arriving in the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s, the zebra mussel and its cousin the quagga mussel have clogged municipal and power plant water intake pipes. They're blamed for a Lake Huron salmon collapse and botulism that has killed thousands of shore birds. In San Francisco Bay, biologists say the Asian clam likely caused a decline of striped bass and other competitors for plankton.

Japanese shore crabs are threatening native clams and mussels from Maine to Chesapeake Bay, which is infested with 150-plus exotic species. Another invader, the spotted jellyfish, became so abundant in the Gulf of Mexico a decade ago they ripped apart fishing nets and caused a temporary halt to commercial shrimping.

"Larvae of almost every major group of invertebrates can be found in ballast water," said Tom Shirley, specialist with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "Protozoa and bacteria thrive there, too."

Ballast is the biggest means of transport for the aquatic aliens, scientists say. Yet regulators have been slow to demand accountability from the shipping industry, which has long insisted there isn't adequate technology to make ballast tanks invader-free.

Now, agencies are turning up the heat as companies report progress toward developing effective sterilization systems. The Coast Guard says it will release final regulations by April limiting the number of live organisms in ballast water and let shippers decide how to comply.

The Environmental Protection Agency also has begun regulating discharges of ballast and other wastewater from vessels, although shippers and environmentalists sued. EPA is discussing settlements while crafting an updated discharge permit effective in 2013.

At least a dozen states also have ballast policies, leaving shippers increasingly worried about having to navigate a patchwork of requirements.

Industry groups contend a New York measure scheduled to take effect next year could bring traffic to a standstill on some of the nation's busiest waterways.

"You'll see the closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway," said Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association. "It would shut down about 50 percent of Great Lakes shipping and about all shipping in New York waters, including the Hudson River and the port of New York and New Jersey."

Jim Tierney, an executive in the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, said the agency was considering shippers' pleas for a grace period. Environmental groups want the department to stand its ground, pointing to findings by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that about 75 species are prime candidates to invade the Great Lakes, mostly through ballast water.

"Most clean-water laws assume it's OK to have a little pollution because it will dilute, evaporate, degrade," said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's office in Ann Arbor. "But invasive species are not like normal pollution. They reproduce and multiply. You have to keep the numbers as low as you possibly can to avoid reaching that critical mass where an entire water body will be colonized."

Since 2004, ships from overseas have been required to dump and replace ballast water, or rinse empty tanks, at least 200 miles from U.S. waters. But studies show that up to 30 percent of organisms remain alive in the tanks, said Andrew Cohen, director of the Center for Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions in Richmond, Calif.

Researchers have spent years developing methods of sanitizing ballast with ultraviolet light, chemicals, filters and even oxygen depletion.

A first draft of the Coast Guard regulations would adopt international limits on numbers of organisms per cubic meter of ballast water.

The ceilings would take effect next year for new vessels and be phased in over several years for existing ones. A second set of limits about 1,000 times stronger in establishing limits per cubic meter of ballast water would be imposed later if studies show that could be accomplished.

Environmentalists are pushing for a quicker timetable, while shippers want it lengthened.

Cmdr. Gary Croot, chief of the Coast Guard's Environmental Standards Division, said the final rules being released this spring will reflect public feedback. "We certainly don't want to establish a standard that no one can comply with," he said.

New York's standard, which takes effect in 2012, would be 100 times more stringent than the proposed Coast Guard limit on organisms. California has adopted even tougher standards, but regulators say enforcement may be delayed.

"There have been ship owners ready and willing to make investments in ballast water treatment technology who have held back because they don't want to spend a million dollars on some system that may have to be ripped out in five years because it doesn't meet the standards," said Jennifer Carpenter, senior vice president of American Waterways Operators.

EPA and the Coast Guard have commissioned studies to determine which standards and technology would work best. The number of live organisms permitted under the Coast Guard's draft policy is the equivalent of one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools, Croot said. Going significantly beyond that would be harder and costlier.

"If you want to make a car perfectly safe, conceivably that could be done, but at what expense?" Croot said.

Read the full story at The Portland Press Herald.