Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

The stupidity of managing marine invasive species

California's got nine species of Caulerpa designated enemies of the state: marine invasives likely brought into coastal waters by the aquarium trade.
California's got nine species of Caulerpa designated enemies of the state: marine invasives likely brought into coastal waters by the aquarium trade.
Southern California Caulerpa Action Team

I tuned in to Madeleine's show about 25 minutes in today, so I caught the tail end of the divine Miss Brand and Pat Krug talking about lionfish in the Caribbean

The conversation spun into a larger talk about marine invasive species. KPCC has covered those issues here in southern California: a few years ago, we did some stories about the mountain yellow legged frog, about controversies around fish stocking, and about ballast water-driven marine invasions

As is his way, Pat Krug called, uh, just about everybody, "incredibly stupid" in terms of their approach to marine invasive. At one point, Madeleine said, "I can't believe there aren't any rules governing that by now." 

There are...sort of. California does have an invasive species plan. It's never gotten a lot of money. Mostly, California throws what money it does have at preventative measures; telling people not to dump aquariums in lagoons and coastal waters, that sort of thing. Nationally, we're still working on turning voluntary ballast water logs into mandatory requirements. Internationally, 74 countries were present 7 years ago when someone made a plan for international ballast water standards. There's still not enough signatories to the plan for it to take effect. The United States has not ratified the plan - though different groups like the American Alliance of Port Authorities are recommending that the U.S. do. What that leaves is a bunch of voluntary accords - aspirational statements about how we mean to handle things, or what would be a good procedure for neutralizing potential harm from ballast water if it were required.  

Managers of water infrastructure care about aquatic invasives when they interfere with the operation of their pumps and pipes, so we see that issue recurring in California and the Great Lakes region. Those costs are the greatest driver for public policy concerns. But I've yet to see any policy, locally, nationally, internationally, that costs businesses money, that combats aquatic species transfer just because it's ecologically bad. (A somewhat squishy concept, btw: is it a bigger problem than nitrates in coastal runoff, or global warming?)

So "incredibly stupid" isn't really enough of an explanation of what's going on for my taste. Nor is there a total lack of rules. And it's not that nobody noticed they were picking up clams and fish and plants in one point and putting them down in another. It's that it's not costing anyone enough money to freak out the people making rules, and the polis has other problems that get treated as more important. Whether that's right or not is different from whether we're being incredibly stupid.