March 3-8 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW)! National Aquarium, Washington, DC is participating to raise awareness about this international environmental issue.
So, what is an invasive species?
An invasive species is any species that is non-native to the ecosystem that has the potential to cause economic or environmental harm to the ecosystem, or to human health. Invasive species pose a great danger to marine ecosystems by altering the water quality and competing with native species for food and other resources.
Possibly the most well-known of all invasive species is the red lionfish Pterois volitans. This species has made a long journey from their native home of Indo-Pacific coral reefs to the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean.
Their venomous spines make the red lionfish inedible to most predators, which has lead to an exponential growth of this species since their introduction into these ecosystems. Efforts are now being made to educate local communities on how to catch and prepare lionfish as a sustainable seafood (Did you know? Lionfish was even one of the featured ingredients for a past Fresh Thoughts dinner!).
One of the most famous invasive species in Maryland is the Northern snakehead (Channa argus). Sometimes called the “Frankenfish,” this species is native to China, Russia, and North and South Korea.
In 2002, an adult snakehead was discovered in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, likely released into the water after being bought at a local fish market. Since first being found in local waters (including the Potomac), its territory has spread along the East Coast from New York to Florida, and the species is beginning to expand west! The snakehead is an apex predator and poses a serious threat to local fish populations.
Stay tuned for more updates during National Invasive Species Awareness Week!