Invasive Species

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A research paper discussing invasive species in the Great Lakes
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   Homa 1   Oliver Homa COMP 105-007 WA #5  November 13, 2017 Unwelcome Inhabitants When viewing a map of the United States, the state of Michigan immediately stands out due to the huge bodies of water that surround it: The Great Lakes. Almost everyone from Michigan can tell you of their good times at the beaches or boating out on the water. The lakes are beautiful, with a diverse and unique ecosystem. They are perfect for a nice, relaxing fishing trip. Unfortunately, many foreign creatures have been introduced into the water by accident. These creatures, known as invasive species, can cause drastic differences in an ecosystem; therefore, their population must be controlled before the damage is too severe. The Great Lakes are home to over 3,500 species of plants and animals, and they are among the world ’ s 15 largest lakes. They are the largest lakes in the United States ( “ About the Great Lakes ” ). Their ecosystem is very special; however, it has been under attack. Over 180 invasive and non-native species have damaged it. At least 25 of them are known to have appeared only recently, since the 1800s ( “ Invasive Species ”   United  ). These species come in almost all forms: plants, fish, eel-like parasitic lampreys, mussels, and even terrestrial ones living on the banks of the lakes. They are harmful in several different ways. According to Tyler Dolin of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, invasive species come from non-native ecosystems and have no official place in the hierarchy of our native ecosystems; therefore, they do not have checks and balances like native species. When they enter a new ecosystem where they do not have many predators, they are quick to out-   Homa 2   compete native species. If this is left unchecked, they can drastically, if not completely, diminish and compromise the diversity of an ecosystem. For example, in the areas of the Detroit River, a very dominant invasive wetland grass called  Phragmites australis  has taken over. It can grow up to 25 feet tall, whereas native plants do not grow taller than 6-7 feet. This destroys habitats for numerous birds, fish, insects, and amphibians. Fish populations are majorly inhibited by this  plant as their breeding and feeding grounds are destroyed. Invasive fish species are also a major  problem. Parasites such as the sea lamprey latch on to fish and feed off of their blood and flesh, eventually leading to the death of most of their hosts. This puts an obvious dent into the numbers of native fish, especially because the lampreys do not have a natural predator present in the Great Lakes. Alarmingly, the devastating effects of invasive species go far beyond destroying habitats. The local Detroit area economy has also taken a hard hit. Boating, fishing, and exploration are all made difficult by them. For example, another invasive plant called European frogs bit, forms floating mats on top of the water. This, combined with other plant species, can completely inhibit access to a wetland, bay, or river mouth. These places are the best sources for fishing, which is now not possible. A popular pastime in our area is to explore the beautiful nature by kayak or  boat, which is also inhibited (Dolin). Taking a look at a nearby lake, “ in the course of about three years, Lake Huron went from the salmon fishing Mecca in the Great Lakes to a ghost of its former self. This not only affected the ecosystem, but the local economy as well ”  (Diana and LaPorte). Just how much damage could a few foreign species cause? When charter fishing was lost in only 10 small towns on Lake Huron, an economic loss of $11 million dollars was incurred (Diana and LaPorte). Recently, researchers have put a number on the estimate of damages caused  by invasive species around all of the Great Lakes as a whole. The median estimate of damages   Homa 3   that was determined is $138 million annually, but could even be more than $800 million annually (Gilroy). Invasive species can be transferred in to the Great Lakes in a vast amount of ways. It is not always known how a certain species suddenly showed up in the ecosystem. However, many of the non-native fish species in the Great Lakes have been traced to an srcin. One of the most notorious intruders is the zebra mussel. Zebra mussels are “ invertebrates with a voracious appetite for plankton. ”  They reproduce very quickly, and eat so much that not much plankton is left for native young fish to consume. Additionally, they are not a good source of food for most fish. Astonishingly, these efficient critters were brought to the Great Lakes by ocean-going cargo ships transferring their ballast water, after access was gained through the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 (Diana and LaPorte). Fortunately, people have learned from the past, and agencies are working hard in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes that were made. According to experts, the best and most cost-effective way to prevent new invasive species from taking over is to detect them early and stop them from developing ( “ Invasive Species ”    National  ). Once they become a part of the ecosystem and their presence is widespread, it can be very difficult to get rid of them. Some species can be controlled by releasing aquatic approved herbicides into bodies of water; however, other plants are impossible to remove, other than manually collecting them by hand. Incoming cargo ships are being watched much more closely. In the early 1990s, the U.S. Coast Guard began requiring ships to seal their ballast water, which could contain foreign species ( “ Invasive Species ”   United  ). The most dangerous potential new species are the asian carp. Asian carp is the collective term for a few species of carp. Initially, they were introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s, only present in aquatic farms. Quickly, they spread into the Mississippi River, and began making their way north into more and more   Homa 4    bodies of water (Milman). The carp out-compete most other fish, and are even dangerous to  people as they jump high out of the water and can hit boaters and fisherman. In fact, people have even had to go to the hospital due to an impact with a flying asian carp (Schankman). In 2004, an electric barrier was built in order to turn the fish away. It sends electric impulses through the water, which “ strongly discourage ”  them from passing ( “ Invasive Species ”   United  ). Although a very effective project, a few asian carp have already been found past the barrier, just miles from the Great Lakes. Luckily, the finding did not confirm that there is a reproducing population of them past the barrier (Milman). These are all reasons why much more needs to be done to curb the damage caused by invasive species. More research needs to be conducted, more regulations need to be put in place, and more control barriers must be built. At the same as the asian carp was found, the current government administration is attempting to justify eliminating a $300 million Great Lakes cleanup budget in its 2018 budget (Milman). It is obvious and apparent that this simply can not  be allowed to happen. Officials need to take notice of this, and average citizens need to educate themselves and raise awareness of these issues. In the end, the future of the Great Lakes is in our hands.  
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