Invasive Alien Species in Coastal Waters

May 22, 2009 was celebrated as International Biodiversity Day. The theme for this year’s celebration was “Invasive Alien Species (IAS) – one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, and to the ecological and economic well-being of the society and planet”.The aim of the celebration was to increase public awareness about the threats of invasive alien species, as well as encourage action to address the problems. Jamaica is among 191 countries that are Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which hosted activities in observance of the day.

Alien species are animals, plants and other organisms that are not native to the environment, and have been introduced either intentionally or unintentionally. When an alien species poses a threat to other organisms in the environment, it is referred to as an invasive alien species. Invasive alien species may pose a threat to the waters of the coastal state in which they are introduced by disrupting the ecosystem and may even pose a threat to humans by the introduction of marine pathogens.

The international shipping community has been significantly affected by the introduction of alien invasive species into coastal waters by ballast water from ships, and Jamaica is no exception. Ballast water is sea water used by the operators of ships to control the stability of the vessel. Ballast is pumped out prior to arriving at the port of loading to receive cargo. Marine life forms are taken up during ballasting and introduced in other areas when de-ballasting takes place.  It is said that once these are introduced they may be impossible to control. Invasive species have now been identified as one of the four greatest threats to the world’s oceans.

“Well known cases of the dangers of invasive aquatic species are the introduction of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes and the green crab in Europe. A non-native species of green mussel has been identified in Kingston Harbour, but it has not been proved to be a danger,” according to Bertrand Smith, Director of Legal Affairs at the Maritime Authority of Jamaica.

In 2004, Jamaica adopted the Ballast Water Convention which addresses the taking in and discharging of ballast water to minimize the risk of transporting harmful aquatic species from one area to the next. Currently a National Task Force chaired by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica is in the process of reviewing the Convention to determine implications of Jamaica’s accession. The Department of Life Sciences of the University of the West Indies is also taking precautionary measure to prevent the introduction of harmful aquatic species which may be transported through ballast water by the sampling of the ballast water of ships calling at Jamaican ports.

The Maritime Authority of Jamaica observed the day by focusing on invasive alien marine species introduced in coastal waters through ballast water from ships. The Authority participated in an exhibition hosted by the Institute of Jamaica at their office on East Street from Friday, May 22nd to Wednesday, May 27th, and in the Urban Development Corporation’s (UDC) Hellshire Enviro Fair at Two Sisters Cave, Hellshire on Friday, May 29th.

Internally, the staff of the MAJ viewed a British Broadcasting Corporation documentary on marine invasive species.

Activities for the day were coordinated by the Environment Management Division of the Office of the Prime Minister, which is the focal point for the Convention on Biological Diversity in Jamaica. Other organizations assisting include the Natural History Division of the Institute of Jamaica and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which is the secretariat for the National Invasive Species Working Group.

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