Marine invasive species, also called non-indigenous species (NIS) have been transported to Prince William Sound in oil tanker ballast water, on vessel hulls, and in sea chests and sediment taken into ballast tanks during ballasting in shallow ports. The introduction of non-indigenous aquatic species into the coastal waters of Prince William Sound may pose a serious environmental and economic threat. These invasive species can compete with native species and cause severe ecological damage.
For example, some ports outside of Alaska, including the Great Lakes and San Francisco Bay, have been invaded by species not indigenous to the area. The zebra mussel, a fresh-water species, is blamed for clogging intake pipes and displacing native species in many parts of the country.
Risk for Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound is a critical habitat for many subsistence and commercially harvested species such as salmon, crab, scallops, herring, walleye, pollock, cod, rockfish, sablefish, squid, and clams.
It is the home to orca and humpback whales, Steller sea lions, Dall’s and harbor porpoises, sea otters, and a host of other animals that depend on Prince William Sound’s rich resources.
In addition to commercial fishing, this area’s economy relies on sport fishing and tourism, which may also be impacted by NIS arrival.
The potential created for invasion of the sound by non-indigenous species has been a priority issue for the council since 1996. PWSRCAC leads a multi-stakeholder working group to coordinate programs in our region. The council is represented on the Western Regional Panel of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and on the National Invasive Species Advisory Committee.
In partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA’s Sea Grant program, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the council has co-sponsored a series of scientific studies conducted by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center since 1997.
As of 2000, the council had identified 15 different non-indigenous species in Prince William Sound. This was accomplished in collaboration with NIS experts and government agencies. Additional work is needed to identify other potential non-indigenous species sources beyond tanker ballast water. Also, work is being conducted to identify any additional NIS that may have been introduced into oil tanker ballast water since 2000.