Don't Introduce Exotic Species to Georgia Waters
So, your child is tired of taking care of that fish tank – is it okay if you just dump the fish into a local pond? How about when you still have live bait left at the end of a long fishing day – just empty that bucket into the water, right? The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) says, “Please, don’t do it!” Species that are not native to a body of water often have the ability to create devastating effects on ecosystems and ultimately economic problems. Examples of a few exotics found in Georgia include fire ants, giant salvinia, kudzu, zebra mussels and blueback herring.
“Exotic species are introduced for a variety of reasons, to create recreational opportunities, to increase the food supply, for pest control or because they are attractive,” says WRD Chief of Fisheries Management Chuck Coomer. “In their native habitats, organisms have natural predators, competitors and diseases that act as checks and balances. However, when introduced to new areas, these same controls may not be in place and exotics can thrive, out-competing native species and becoming a serious problem.”
Ecosystems are threatened by exotic species as they sometimes have the ability to displace native species, introduce unknown diseases, impact wildlife habitat and endanger protected species. Once an exotic establishes a breeding population, it is virtually impossible to eliminate and control measures are expensive, costing millions of dollars each year. These species then create an economic cost, whether in the form of dollars spent to fight the spread of the exotic or in the form of an economic loss, such as a decline in fishing license sales, diminished property values or loss of use when fisheries are devastated.
According to The Nature Conservancy, over 4,500 exotic species (plants and animals) exist in the United States and are estimated to cost more than $137 billion annually in losses to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and the maintenance of open waterways. In addition, these introduced species have contributed to the decline of 46 percent of the country’s imperiled or endangered species. Exotics around the world are the second biggest threat (first is habitat and degradation loss) to the decline of imperiled and endangered plants and animals.
It takes everyone - individuals, private organizations, businesses and governments – to halt the spread of exotics. Protection from additional economic loss requires the prevention of additional introductions, early detection and eradication of new exotics, control and management of established problem species, and protection and recovery of native species and ecosystems. Tactics are as simple as never releasing live bait fish, removing all plants from boat motors and trailers before leaving the launch site, learning about legal ornamental pond plants before buying them, never releasing aquarium fish or plants into waterways and landscaping with native plants.