OCEAN SPRINGS - Scientists
from the northern Gulf of Mexico kicked off a survey of alien species
and living resources in Mississippi waters today.
Approximately 100 scientists and other volunteers
from 29 organizations gathered at The University of Southern Mississippi's
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory early today for final coordination
on handling samples and data before heading out to the largest rapid
assessment ever held in the Gulf.
In four days of intense work in the field and in laboratories
at the GCRL, members of the Alabama-Mississippi Rapid Assessment
Team will take a "snapshot" of all living organisms that
are present in Mississippi Sound and adjacent waters. Their goal
is to identify alien (non-native) species that have taken up residence
in the state's coastal waters and to determine how well they are
"This is a baseline inventory of all living species,"
said David Yeager, director of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program.
"Not one of our agencies could accomplish this survey alone.
By working together, we expect to find out what non-natives are
out there so that agencies and organizations can plan for the future."
Researchers will be combing the shorelines, sampling
the sediments, scraping pilings, seining, diving, and taking to
the skies to identify plant and animal species. Once the field teams
collect the species, survey teams will identify the materials in
labs at the GCRL. Examples of notorious aliens well known on the
Gulf Coast include kudzu, fire ants and the giant Australian spotted
jelly that swarmed northern Gulf waters in 2000.
"There are no walls in the marine environment
at state lines," Yeager said. "What we find in Mississippi
is of interest across the Gulf."
He said alien species can be benign or can impact
public health, the economy and the environment of a region. By identifying
non-native species early, the inventory better equips resource managers
to deal with the threat or to direct research toward methods for
controlling aliens that can cause problems.
Yeager and Harriet Perry, director of the Southern
Miss Center for Fisheries Research and Development at the laboratory,
are co-founders of AMRAT. A team of 50 to 60 scientists piloted
the cooperative, comprehensive assessment strategies in Mobile Bay
in September 2003. The 2004 effort is covering the Mississippi coast
from state line to state line and out to the barrier islands.
Organizers are the GCRL, the Mississippi Department
of Marine Resources, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and
the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. GCRL is providing
housing and meals. Participating agencies are donating personnel,
equipment and boats. Fiscal support is being provided through GCRL
from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from
the Mississippi Coastal Impact Assistance Program, through the Mobile
NEP from the Environmental Protection Agency, and from Sea Grant.
Participating groups and agencies are Alabama Department
of Marine Resources, Auburn University, Audubon Society, Barataria
Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Environmental
Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Grand Bay National
Estuarine Research Reserve, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Gulf
of Mexico Program Office, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission,
Malacological Research Center of Mobile, Mississippi Department
of Environmental Quality, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources,
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Power Company,
Mississippi State University (MSU), MSU Coastal Research and Extension
Center, MSU GeoResources Institute, Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries
and Parks, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Mobile Bay
National Estuary Program, National Park Service, Nature Conservancy,
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Geological Survey,
University of Alabama Biology Department, University of South Alabama
Department of Biology, The University of Southern Mississippi Department
of Marine Science and Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
The survey is being coordinated with the Gulf of Mexico
Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species, created to make recommendations
to the National Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, a multi-agency
federal panel for guiding invasive species work nationally.
"AMRAT needed an enormous range of scientific
disciplines to make this work," Perry said. "The breadth
of experience and expertise among the volunteers is awesome and
the collaboration among individuals and organizations is impressive.
Any agency with a stake in the resources of our coastal marine environment
has personnel participating."
The GCRL is part of The University of Southern Mississippi
College of Science and Technology.