International Group Proposes Measures to Stop Invasive Species, U.S. May Wait Until 2021

zebra mussels attached to native mussel

Zebra mussels, another invasive mollusk in the Great Lakes, attached to a native mussel. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Putting your toes in the sand is one thing. Cutting your feet on a quagga mussel is another.

Quagga mussels, which wash up cracked and sharp on the shores of Great Lakes beaches, are one example of invasive species that have been mucking up the U.S. landscape for decades.

A new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature says ports and trade hotspots in the United States need to do more to detect and respond to foreign invaders like the quagga.Quaggas have transformed the Great Lakes ecosystem, outcompeting native species, harming fish populations, clogging up drinking water intake pipes and helping fuel toxic algal blooms.

There's also the asian carp, which invaded the Illinois River after being flooded out of catfish farms in the 1990s, and can jump from the water and break your jaw if your'e not careful.

The IUCN report, titled "Neighborhood Watch," urges international cooperation and coordination to stop accidental introductions of more pests and pathogens, which threaten economic, environmental and public health.

"A serious reconsideration of our national biosecurity system is now in order," says Randy Westbrooks, an invasive species prevention specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Neighborhood Watch says measures to better guard against invaders could be funded by the "polluter pays" principle.

How is the U.S. responding?
Leaders have been struggling for years to control the spread of invasives through ballast water, which ocean-going ships use for balance. The ships are supposed to flush at sea, but that flushing doesn't kill every critter in their ballast tanks, and there's no U.S. requirement to treat and kill the stowaways.

The U.S. Coast Guard came out with draft rules this month on ballast water, but some environmental groups say they're wishy-washy.

The regulations, now in the public comment phase, wouldn't fully kick in until 2021, and the technology to treat ballast tanks is still being developed.

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