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Aquatic invasive species issues


Invasive species are harmful and undesirable plants, animals, insects or even microbial organisms that arrived at a location (in our case, Hawaii) as a result of human actions, purposeful or not. The word "aquatic" refers to species that live in or complete part of their life cycle in water (fresh, brackish or saltwater).

Synonyms for the term "invasive species"

A number of words are used interchangeably:
Pest species
Nuisance species

Why should I care about aquatic invasive species?

The Hawaiian Archipelago is home to 85% of the U.S.'s coral reefs, including a multitude of fish, corals, seaweeds and other marine life. Some of our reefs are being smothered and killed by invasive seaweed, the introduced blue line snapper competes with native fish for food and shelter space, and the floating water fern salvinia covered Lake Wilson in 2003, costing the state over $1 million dollars to clean up. Even if you don't fish at Lake Wilson or go to the beach, Hawaii's reefs provide food and jobs, and protect the shoreline from erosion, an asset value estimated at $10 billion, mostly from tourism.

If we are unable to control the invasive pests already present, and if we are not vigilant in keeping new pests out, we might find ourselves with an ocean and streams that do not provide the food, protection or recreation opportunities we are used to. We can prevent this fate if we make it a high priority for our government, and if we ourselves help protect these areas from invasive species.

Common questions:

Q: Are all non-native or introduced species also "invasive species"?
A: No. Some plants and animals that are introduced to a new location outside their normal range do not reproduce quickly, spread, or cause harm. However, we know very little about the complex relationships within the aquatic environment. Any new species may become invasive due to lack of predators or other natural controls found in their native range. Some synonyms for "non-native" are alien, introduced, exotic.

Q: So what's a "native species"?
A: Plants and animals that arrived at a location (Hawaii, for example) without human assistance (via wind, wings, or waves), and their descendants, some of which may have changed over millions of years to look or act quite different from their ancestors. Some examples include Hawaii's honeycreepers, silverswords, happyface spiders, longnosed butterflyfish, and all of our oopu.

Aquatic Invasive Species Team

The Aquatic Invasive Species Response Team (AIS Team) was established in 2005 as part of the overall 2003 State of Hawaii Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan to provide a more rapid response to possible new aquatic infestations as well as dedicated manpower to control established invasive species.
Some work to-date includes the following:
  • The Aquatic Invasive Species Team of divers inspected a wreck-response vessel bound for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. On AIS recommendation, the hull was cleaned of attached invasive species.
  • The AIST is working on a method to eliminate snowflake coral from the pier at Kauai's Port Allen. Snowflake coral is a soft (non-stony) coral that was accidentally introduced sometime prior to 1972 when it was found in Pearl Harbor. (see below for description of project).
  • The AIST will continue to map invasive seaweeds, and staffs the Supersucker (see below) in Kaneohe Bay.

More information on selected topics

A'ohe Limu'e (also known as alien algae cleanup events) Invasive seaweed removal projects in Waikiki educate the public about the problems of aquatic invasive species. These large-scale efforts to remove the invasive seaweed Gracilaria salicornia (gorilla ogo), rely on the help of volunteers from the local community, school groups, and other community service groups. For information about volunteer activities, please contact Katherine Cullison at

The Supersucker Project
The proliferation of invasive seaweeds in Kaneohe Bay and other locations statewide prompted exploration into possible methods for removing large amounts of seaweed in an attempt to protect the diversity of Hawaii's reefs. Full story.

The Port Allen snowflake coral Removal Project
One of the larger projects undertaken by the AIS Team is the local eradication of one of two known populations of snowflake coral on the island of Kauai. Full story.

Habitattitude Campaign The "Habitattitude" Campaign asks the public not to dump unwanted aquarium pets and pond plants. Instead, turn them in to participating pet stores and other drop off locations statewide. Full story PDF

Issue summary: apple snails in Hawaii
Originating in South America, the apple snail (sometimes called the golden snail) was introduced to Florida and then Taiwan in the early 1980s but there is indication that some species of Pomacea where introduced in 1979 to Taiwan. Full story. PDF

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