Galapagos Invasive Species:
Invasive species in the sea

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Invasive species in the marine environment.

Hull foulingUntil recently the issue of introduced species in the marine environment was greatly undervalued, with the assumption that the risk of ecological or economic damage was much lower than that for terrestrial ecosystems. It is now recognised that this assumption is based largely on ignorance, and a lack of research into the marine environment worldwide. It has been estimated that 3,000 different species are dumped in foreign ports every day from ballast tanks of cargo ships (, and at any given moment 10,000 different species are being transported between bio-geographic regions in ballast tanks ( Introduced species such as bivalves (such as the notorious zebra mussel and the green mussel in US waters) and seaweeds can profoundly affect the ecological processes in marine ecosystems, and thereby the economic activities dependant upon them, including fisheries. Fortunately there is now growing awareness of the problem and the need to take action, with the development of regional strategies for managing the main vectors of dispersion, via ballast water and hull fouling (shown very clearly on the propellor of an old boat in the photo on the right.) As a result of this, there now exist pilot programmes monitoring the problem, and also international agreements at the level of the International Maritime Organization aimed at regulating the problem of transporting invasive species in ballast water.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve was created by the Government of Ecuador on the 18th March 1998, and consists of an area of 138,000 km2, making it one of the largest in the world and the first Marine Reserve in Ecuador. In December 2001 it was also named a World Heritage Site in recognition of its ecological, cultural, educational and economic value. Due to the confluence of warm and cold surface currents and deep, cold upwelling waters around the Galapagos archipelago, the Marine Reserve is host to a range of endemic marine species, as well as being intimately linked ecologically to a number of terrestrial endemic and native species, such as the marine iguana.

Research in the Marine Reserve is relatively new and the first base line survey was published in 2002, summarising information on coastal waters up to 20 meters depth, the zoning system for the reserve, and socio-economic information on the local fisheries and their impact on the marine environment (Danulat E & GJ Edgar (eds). 2002). A marine scientist with the Charles Darwin Foundation can be seen checking a quadrat in the photo. One of the areas not covered so far is that of introduced marine organisms, and current priorities are focused on the extraction of resources (the fisheries), its sustainability and impact. It is not known how many species present in the Marine Reserve are actually introduced, or potentially invasive, and funding at present does not allow for any research in this area.

Marine scientist Consequently, the emphasis at present is to reduce the risk of the introduction of new species to the Marine Reserve. The Provincial Agricultural Health Committee of Galapagos has produced a Plan for the Management of Invasive Species in the Marine Environment which prioritises the production of protocols for the three main vectors:

This activity is currently unfunded and has been identified as high priority.

Source: Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park.

Literature cited.

Danulat E & GJ Edgar (eds). 2002. Reserve Marina de Galápagos. Línea Base de la Biodiversidad. Fundación Charles Darwin / Servicio Parque Nacional Galápagos, Santa Cruz, Galápagos, Ecuador. 484 pp.)

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This website was created on 25 October 2004 by PT and JK