Invasive alien species are considered one of the greatest threats to biodiversity.
While Cayman is actively engaged in battling its own invasive pests, a UK funded project aims to ‘scan the horizon’ for potential threats before they reach our shores.
Those of us here in Grand Cayman are certainly familiar with the green iguana: just one example of an invasive species in our islands. With an estimated population of more than one million, this invasive species certainly has become ubiquitous on Grand. Those in the sister islands are working to keep these pesky green iguanas from establishing a strong foothold there.
Last week, experts from across the UK overseas territories convened for a ‘horizon scanning’ exercise, to identify the potential invasive threats of the future.
“Islands are particularly vulnerable to invasions, because often they have a really unique flora and fauna, their very own wildlife,” said Helen Roy of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Speaking at the 4-day horizon Scanning Workshop, she told Cayman 27 this inherent vulnerability is one reason why experts from the overseas territories are scanning for future threats.
“We are seeing an escalation in the number of new arrivals worldwide, and that is because we are moving around so much more, and we are wanting more and more exotic fruits and foods and products that are moving around as well, so we are seeing all kinds of challenges as a consequence,” she said.
“Things like snakes, other things in the pet trade, some reptiles, and various birds, termites, ants – you name it,” said Dr. Niall Moore, the UK’s Chief non-native species officer
Dr. Moore told Cayman 27 the workshop puts the focus on thwarting the alien invasions of the future.
“What we are really really keen to do is to get the experts to look at what species are coming down the line so we can put in place mechanisms to stop the species from becoming established in the first place,” he said.
“We know commercial shipments are one thing, but often times the biggest challenge comes with the individual traveler,” said Department of Agriculture Assistant Director Brian Crichlow.
He told Cayman 27 some may be unwittingly importing what could become the next invasive species.
“Things can be bought very rapidly and range from seeds to plants, its unbelievable what can be bought online, and it goes to somewhere in Miami, a courier picks it up, and ships it in,” he explained. “People don’t often think to ask in advance should I be buying this, what are the import requirements.”
Now here’s a question: do we stand a chance at eradicating these invasive species?
Dr. Moore told Cayman 27 the UK’s ruddy duck is one invasive species success story. First introduced to the UK in 19-48, the ruddy duck population out-competed other native duck species and topped out at around 6,000.
According to the UK animal and plant health agency, only 40 individuals remained as of early 2015.