NOAA has awarded $2.5 million to the University of Notre Dame and its partners to predict the next wave of invasive species likely to enter the Great Lakes and to identify cost-effective countermeasures.
Invasive species such as zebra mussels are already a large problem, costing the region more than $200 million annually by disrupting Great Lakes fisheries and damaging waterway infrastructure by clogging water intake valves. Information generated by the study will help authorities prepare for new invasions and control current non-native populations.
“We’ve got to identify the invasive species that pose the greatest environmental and economic threat here in the Great Lakes and plan for their containment,” said Felix Martinez, a program manager with NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “There are many different potential invaders that could do enormous damage to the Great Lakes ecosystem and our region’s economies.”
In making their predictions about which species are likely to invade, researchers will consider such factors as the most likely paths of introduction and spread and the availability of suitable habitat across the Great Lakes.
“We’re looking at the big picture with this study,” said Lindsay Chadderton, The Nature Conservancy’s director for aquatic invasive species and a participating partner in the study. “A lot of work to date has focused on single species. This study will give us the ability to look more broadly and strategically at the problem.”
The Asian carp invasion will play a role in the study. Recently, the state of Michigan filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to force closure of waterways connecting a Chicago-area canal system to Lake Michigan. The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, which feed into Lake Michigan, are already teeming with the fish, which were likely released when flooding damaged aquaculture ponds where the fish had been used to eat pond waste.
Robert Haas of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment has called the project “essential.”
“We believe that this project will substantially improve our ability to protect the Great Lakes against new aquatic invaders and also help us to minimize spread of those invasive species,” Haas said.
Although NOAA is providing initial funding for the project, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to contribute an additional $2.25 million to the project, which will bring the total investment to $4.75 million over five years.
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