Monitoring Marine Invasives

Monitoring Marine Invasives
CURRENT

PROJECT:

Monitoring Marine Invasive Species

PARTNER:

Charles Darwin Foundation

STATUS:

Funded in 2014 and ongoing through March 2018

Whale shark

A whale shark in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. (Photo © Steven M. Genkins)


Overview

Biological invasions occur worldwide due to global trade, transport, and tourism, and can often have harmful effects on the environment. The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is extremely susceptible to invasive marine species because of increases in marine traffic, climate change, and other factors. Scientists confirm that there are six well-established invasive species in the GMR today, including two species of algae, a crab, a starfish, and two species of plant-like animals that resemble ferns and mosses. The goal of this project is to ensure the long-term conservation of the GMR by minimizing the negative impacts of invasive species on marine biodiversity and the ecosystem.

Many marine invasive species attach themselves to the bottom of boat hulls and get transported around the world. When infected boats are in port and the attached species reproduce, they settle on and around the docks and pilings of ports. The GMR has five main ports that are visited by an increasing number of yachts each year from both national and international ports. In addition, there are 70 terrestrial and 75 marine visitor sites in the Galapagos National Park (GNP) that are visited on a daily basis by boat tour operators leaving from these five ports.

Invasive algae C. racemosa

Invasive algae species C. racemosa © Inti Keith

This project will establish an early detection system in the main ports in Galapagos to help local authorities quickly identify and eradicate marine invasives before they spread. For example, a research team has set up various experiments to measure the spread of a species of algae known as Caulerpa racemosa in bays off Fernadina and Isabela Islands, and to observe how the change in water temperature during the different seasons could cause this species to spread. The early detection system will also serve as a replicable model to be used for other marine protected areas (MPAs) in mainland Ecuador and the region. Workshops will be planned with GNP guides and local authorities to promote prevention, early detection, and rapid response in order to protect the fragile biodiversity of the GMR.

On February 24, 2015, the Charles Darwin Research Station hosted an international workshop on marine invasive species, which resulted in priority recommendations by scientists and local authorities. Read a recap of the workshop in our blog by marine biologist Inti Keith, who is leading the marine invasives project and helped organize the workshop.