Invasive species are species that are non-native to an ecosystem, and whose introduction is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, or harm to human health. Marine invasive species are a worldwide problem that is increasing in frequency due largely to increasing world trade and travel by humans. While marine invasive species in Alaska have been kept relatively low in comparison with other regions, the risks for introductions are rising with developing industries. For example, vectors that could contribute to introductions in Alaska are ballast water and hull fouling of marine vessels, aquaculture/mariculture, the live seafood trade, and the aquarium/pet trade. In addition, marine invasions could also result from natural factors such as floating rafts of debris, oceanic currents, changing climate conditions, and habitat range extensions. Introduction of non-native species have the potential of impacting Alaska's native species and ecosystem functions, and thereby key economic industries and natural resources, such as commercial and sport fishing, shipping, aquaculture, recreation, and tourism.
Because Alaska's marine invasive species are relatively low in abundance and distribution in comparison to its West Coast neighbors, the state has the opportunity to avoid some of the large scale problems experienced by the continental US and Hawaii. Alaska's investment in prevention, early detection and response, public outreach, and citizen science and monitoring will help the state to avoid high costs of invasive species management and eradication.
Non-native and invasive marine species currently present in the state include Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), boring sponge (Cliona thosina), golden star tunicate (Botryllus schlosseri), violet tunicate (Botrylloides violaceus), colonial tunicates (Didemnum sp.), wireweed (Sargassum muticum), and purple laver (Porphyra purpurea). Additionally, invaders that have affected Alaska's West Coast neighbors and are expected to significantly impact Alaska in the future include Atlantic cordgrass (Spartina sp.), European green crab (Carcinus maenas), New Zealand mud snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum), and zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis).
The marine invasive species program at the ASLC began in 2008 under the encouragement of the Director of Conservation, Howard Ferren and Aquarium Curator, Richard Hocking. Our program has been involved in a number of objectives including field monitoring and education, developing and implementing a high school outreach and distance delivery program, developing an exhibit design concept, organizing web links for Alaska's marine invasive species information and contacts, and coordinating a number of organizations to convene for the Marine Invasive Species Workshop held in March 2010 at the Alaska SeaLife Center as a joint effort by the Alaska Invasive Species Working Group, which resulted in a report of immediate and short term action plans. Our team has collaborated with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Ocean Alaska Science and Learning Center, the National Park Service, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and the Alaska Invasive Species Working Group Marine Subcommittee to accomplish these goals.