UNH to Host International Team of Scientists to Search for Bioinvaders
By Dave Kellam, Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership
July 25, 2007
What has ten legs, hairy claws, and may soon be your neighbor? The answer
is the Chinese mitten crab; however, an international team of scientists
will soon be scouring the Seacoast to find this and other unwanted invasive
species before they become well-established in New Hampshire.
From July 24 to July 31, researchers from across the globe will be looking
around marinas, piers and shipyards in Massachusetts and New Hampshire
in search of invasive marine species. The team will collect hundreds
of plants and animals and transport them to UNH laboratories where the
specimens will be identified by species.
Called the Northeast Rapid Assessment Survey (RAS), it provides a “snapshot” of
the local marine ecology and may provide early detection of an invasive
species. The survey was last hosted by the New Hampshire Estuaries Project
Crabs are not the only creatures threatening the Seacoast. The team
will be on the look out for other known bioinvaders, such as the “Down
Under” barnacle, the kelp-like red algae, and a sea squirt from
Japan commonly called the Club Tunicate. These and native marine species
will all be cataloged to better understand the dynamic ecology along
Jan Smith, director of the Massachusetts Bays Program and a co-organizer
of the effort, stresses the importance of bringing the best people together
to identify species.
“There are a very limited number of people in the world with the
expertise to quickly and accurately identify marine species. We have
recruited scientists from Holland, Brazil, Canada and throughout the
Unite States to make this monitoring effort possible,” Smith said. “With
the aid of researchers and laboratories at UNH, we will be able to identify
a wide-range of specimens, some of which may be new bioinvaders.”
An example of a bioinvader the team will be looking for is the Chinese
mitten crab. Originally from Asia, this medium-sized crab first appeared
on the west coast of the United States in the early 1990s.
The crab lives in both fresh and saltwater and competes for food and
space with native species. Its habit of burrowing into stream banks has
been especially damaging to earthen dams and delicate shorelines. In
2005, Chesapeake Bay fishermen reported catching Chinese mitten crabs
in their blue crab traps. Two years later, the invasive crabs had reached
Delaware Bay. And just last month, a male crab was found in the Hudson
Smith said, “This is not good news for New England.”
The Northeast RAS is just one of the monitoring efforts supported by
the New Hampshire Estuaries Project.
“Monitoring the environmental condition of our estuaries is the
only way to effectively manage these vital natural resources,” said
Jennifer Hunter, director of the New Hampshire Estuaries Project. “By
routinely measuring chemical indicators, like dissolved inorganic nitrogen;
biological indicators, like oyster bed size; and even human-caused indicators,
such as rate of development; we can identify trends that show in environmental
degradation before it is too late to do anything about it.”
The Northeast RAS is a collaborative effort of three regional estuary
programs, including the New Hampshire Estuaries Project, and is jointly
coordinated by the Massachusetts Bays Program and the MIT Sea Grant Program.
The New Hampshire Estuaries Project is a cooperative environmental program
involving governmental agencies, universities, non-profit organizations,
businesses, and the public to protect, monitor, and enhance the ecological
health of the state’s coastal bays and rivers. It is funded in
part by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, through
an agreement with UNH. For more information, go to www.nhep.unh.edu.