An Unfortunate “Melting Pot”

March 19, 2010

The United States of America has often been called the “melting pot” of the world, as it accepted people from all parts of the globe. However, an undesirable byproduct of such mixing was the introduction of many different species. While some people intentional bring exotic animals and plants to this country, an exponentially larger number are transported unknowingly. The current world is incredibly connected; even the landlocked ports of the Great Lakes can be associated with ports in Egypt, Australia, and Argentina. In fact, Dr. David Lodge demonstrated how the laurentian Great Lakes are connected to such ports by a maximum of four degrees of separation. Along their journeys, the ships have a tendency to pick up hitchhikers and other unwanted passengers. Even though most of these species aren’t able to survive due to differences in salinity and temperature, those that do survive are incredibly resilient. Their effects have already proven costly, such as the Zebra Mussel infestation in the Great Lakes. Additionally, San Francisco Bay has become the ultimate melting pot for different species, as noted in Dr. Lodge’s lecture.

How can we control this problem? Federal regulation seems to be the best starting point, but enforcement is the largest issue. Treatment or replacement of ballast water proves promising, as the removal of species offshore could help preserve the ecosystems of our port cities. However, until these systems become cost effective, many shipping companies would either forget or simply refuse to implement them. The Coast Guard in conjunction with Port Authorities would be the general enforcing agents. Legislation regarding which species may be brought in is much more clear cut and straightforward than which species are barred from our borders. The Lacey Act is a prime example of the ultimate failure to protect our natural habitats from invaders (other than ourselves). While this would be time-consuming, it would prove very cost-effective and allow researchers to model the effects of different species introduction. These are just a few of the many ways to protect our borders. Above all, the greatest asset to limiting foreign species invasions is clearly the enforcement of current laws, and the formation of stricter ones to preserve our native species.

-Evan Schwartz