February 2007, Vol. 19, No.2


Setting Boundaries for a New, Bigger Barnacle

A bigger barnacle than Florida has seen before has made its way to the state’s east coast. Experts aren’t sure what the oversized Megabalanus coccopoma’s impact will be, but it’s been spotted in St. Augustine and in Port St. Lucie. Environmental officials discovered the jumbo-sized crustacean for the first time in Savannah, Ga., in summer 2006.

The barnacle — known to grow at least as large as a woman’s palm — is seen as a potential “fouling” nuisance, because barnacles can cement themselves to everything from boat hulls to intake pipes.

“I think it’s fair to say it will have an impact,” said Maia McGuire, a marine extension agent with Florida Sea Grant, a University of Florida (Gainesville) affiliated coastal research and education program.

Experts don’t know how the barnacle ended up in Florida. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico to Ecuador but in the last few years has been reported in Brazil, Texas, and Louisiana.

Barnacles, arthropods that are related to crabs and lobsters, fix themselves to objects or other animals and wait for food to come to them. They can hitch a ride to their new destinations by attaching themselves to ship or boat hulls, or their larvae get sucked up in ballast water used to balance large vessels, such as cruise ships. When ships unload cargo in ports, they take on millions of gallons of sea water to keep them steady as the load lightens.

Ballast-water transport is believed responsible for many invasive species around the globe, such as zebra mussels in the Great Lakes area, and officials estimate ballast-water transport causes an estimated $10 billion in damage a year. Since 1999, federal officials have been keeping track through the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse (Edgewater, Md.). It is a federal crime for ships not to report ballast-water exchange.

Whitman Miller, the clearinghouse’s coordinator, said ships have been complying better with reporting requirements since penalties went into effect in 2004. For now, the idea is that ships must unload coastal water in noncoastal waters, he said, to keep invasive species from putting down roots in a familiar environment.

In the late 1980s, a jellyfish native to the U.S. called Mnemiopsis made it to the Black Sea via ballast water. It literally gobbled up the food supply, Miller said, crushing the local anchovy industry.

“When it comes to invasive species, we export as well as import,” Miller said.

Amy Benson, a Gainesville-based fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said it’s too early to know what the volcano-shaped barnacle’s impact will be.

“The current barnacles we have cause problems, and they’re much smaller,” she said. “This one is so large, I can see it being a big problem.”

Contact McGuire at mpmcguire@mail.ifas.ufl.edu.

Erie Marsh Preserve Becomes Part of Refuge System

North America’s first-ever international wildlife refuge — the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in Michigan — is doubling in size as the Erie Marsh Preserve is incorporated into the refuge system. Since 2001, the refuge has grown from 160 ha (394 ac) to the current 1756 ha (4339 ac).

According to a press release issued by The Nature Conservancy (Arlington, Va.), the Erie Marsh represents 11% of the remaining marshland in southeast Michigan and is one of the largest marshes in Lake Erie. Coastal marshes are critically important to migrating waterfowl, raptors, and shorebirds and serve as breeding grounds for numerous spawning fish, plants, insects, reptiles, and amphibians, the press release notes.

For more information on this preserve, see www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/michigan/preserves/