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Invasive Species

Credit: Yvonne C. Allen
From: US EPA-GMP, 2004; NOAA, 2004; EIH, 2004; TAMU, 2004.

An invasive species is defined as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” (TAMU, 2004). Alien species are sometimes also referred to as exotic, non-native, introduced, nuisance and non-indigenous species. Invasions of exotic marine animals and plants across biogeographical boundaries, especially into marine environments, are not new. Species introductions have occurred both intentionally and unintentionally. Once introduced, invasive species can cause major ecological and economic impacts in receiving environments. Successful introductions are usually irreversible. The Gulf of Mexico’s distinctive geography, climate, history and economy make the region particularly vulnerable to the biological invasions and subsequent ecological degradation.

Ballast water discharges from transoceanic vessels are known to be the single largest source of introduction of aquatic non-indigenous species invasions worldwide. It is estimated that on any given day more than 3,000 species of freshwater, brackish and marine organisms may be transported in ballast water in ocean-going vessels around the world. This threat is particularly serious with respect to the Gulf of Mexico because the region has the largest watershed in North America and some of the world’s largest ports are located here.

Other methods of introduction include aquarium and pet trades, horticulture and aquaculture, recreation, agriculture and species used for biological control.

Although no estimate is available for the Gulf of Mexico Region, the total economic impact of invasive plants alone on the U.S. economy is estimated to be about $123 billion annually. Thus the potential impact of invasive species to the Gulf of Mexico Region cannot be over-emphasized.

Currently various coordinated activities including research, prevention and control techniques and formulation of laws and regulations are being undertaken at the regional and state levels to address the issue. The Marine Invasions Research laboratory of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has developed the largest research program in the US to focus on coastal invasions. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC) in the US maintains a continuously updated database of non-native aquatic nuisance species in the region. The Louisiana Sea Grant Program is also combining research, workshops, conferences and publications in the region to encourage awareness of non-indigenous invasive species among various segments of the general public, government entities and specific industrial or population groups. Recently the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (IABIN) has initiated a partnership program with the Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO) invasive species program to implement an invasive species information system for Mexico.

Environmental Institute of Houston (EIH). Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at:

Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC). Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at:

TAMU - Texas Imported Fire Ant Applied Research and Education Program. Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at:

NOAA. Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at:

US Environmental P{rotection Agency(EPA)- Gulf of Mexico Program (GMP). Viewed on the web on February 23, 2004 at:

Additional Information:
US Environmental Protection Agency - Gulf of Mexico Program - Invasive Species
National Biological Information Infrastructure - Invasive Species
Regional NonindigenousUnited States Geological Survey(USGS) - Aquatic Species Web Sites
NOAA - President Clinton Expands Federal Efforts to Combat Invasive Species

Keywords:   Alien, Non-indigenous, Non-native, Invasive, Ballast water

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