Marine Invasive Species

Invasive species are non-indigenous plants, animals, or diseases that can cause harm when introduced to a new environment. Non-indigenous species are also called non-native, alien, exotic, or introduced species.

Invasive species in ballast water

Marine invasive species are often transported between coastal areas by ships in ballast water. Ballast water is sea water that is taken on to help stabilize the vessel during ocean voyages. This water can contain sediments that that contain larvae of marine species. Prior to loading cargo, the tankers discharge the ballast water used during the voyage.

Invasive species attached to ships’ hulls

Invasives can also travel to new environments by attaching to a ship’s hull, sea chest, anchor, propeller, or most any location immersed in water. This is referred to as “fouling.”

The risk for Prince William Sound

Invasive species that become established in the coastal waters of Prince William Sound may pose a serious environmental and economic threat. They can out-compete native species, disrupt food webs, or alter habitat. 

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 arrival of these species.

Coastal areas in other many other places, such as the Great Lakes and San Francisco Bay, have already been severely altered by invasive species introduced by ships. In Prince William Sound, crude oil tankers are a likely vector for transporting these species due to large volumes of ballast water that come from distant ports.

Council efforts to combat marine invasive species

Invasive species have been a priority issue for the council since 1996. Our work includes:

  • Coordinating a citizen science effort to monitor for European green crab and other invasives
  • The Council 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.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are the council’s main partners for NIS.

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