Researchers from The University of Southern Mississippi are helping
launch a four-day rapid assessment of alien and native species in
Mobile Bay today (Tuesday, Sept. 2) by scientists from Mississippi
marathon - the first of its kind on the Gulf Coast - involves more
than 50 scientists from Mississippi and Alabama. They will be out
on the water to collect and observe plants and animals and in laboratories
at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to identify specimens and process
data collected on an intense, nonstop schedule. The goal is to collect
and identify as many different organisms as possible during the
survey period of Tuesday through Friday.
say the invasion of marine environments by nonnative species is
producing severe economic and environmental concerns. Invasive species
spread rapidly, create serious environmental impacts and out-compete
microbes to marine mammals, we are looking at everything,"
said Harriet Perry, a Southern Miss fisheries biologist at the GCRL.
"We want to see what alien species have established residence
in the bay. The survey will also establish a baseline inventory
of native plants and animals.
repeat the survey next year for Mississippi's coastal waters with
the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs as host."
Squads of participants
are trawling, seine netting, hand netting, collecting animals by
hand and scraping fouling organisms from surfaces. Other groups
will take ballast water samples from ships in port.
is the brainchild of Perry and an Alabama colleague. Perry, director
of the Southern Miss Center for Fisheries Research and Development
at the GCRL, and David Yeager of the Mobile Bay National Estuarine
Program, are members of a regional work group that makes recommendations
to the Gulf of Mexico Regional Panel on aquatic nuisance species.
That panel is part of a multi-agency task force on guiding work
on invasive plants and animals nationally.
Perry and Yeager
hatched the idea at a regional meeting a year ago, confident that
with a modest financial stake from the Mobile Bay NEP, interested
groups would make personnel, boats, gear and expertise available.
They were right.
A few organizational meetings later the enterprise had been christened
the Alabama-Mississippi Rapid Assessment Team or AMRAT. Lead agencies,
in addition to the Southern Miss fisheries center and the Mobile
NEP, are the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, the Alabama Department of Conservation's
Marine Resources Division and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant
Miss fisheries center has enlisted 13 participants from the GCRL
- scientists and technical staff from the center and faculty and
students from the university's Department of Coastal Sciences. Other
groups traveling from Mississippi to take part are from the Gulf
States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Mississippi Department of
Marine Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Sea Lab
is providing lodging and laboratory space. Further funding and in-kind
support are being provided by the Environmental Protection Agency,
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and by all the
participating AMRAT organizations.
and Alabama have a tremendous pool of taxonomic expertise, and we
felt these scientists would be enthusiastic about contributing their
scientific skills," Perry said. "Any agency with a stake
in the resources in our coastal marine environment has personnel
the event also lays the groundwork for other programs and future
years from now, when someone does a similar study, they can tell
if natural populations have decreased or disappeared and how successful
efforts have been in moderating the impact of alien species,"
she said. "Another plus is that specimens of every single animal
species we collect will be processed into the GCRL Museum so that
they will be available for research by scientists and students in
an added benefit for the fisheries center - the opportunity for
a trial run on procedures for an inventory of Mississippi fauna
that she and her team are assembling with the support of a grant
from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, administered in Mississippi
by the state's Department of Environmental Quality.
are great things coming out of this for everyone involved,"
Perry said. "This amazing survey is only possible because of
the spirit of cooperation among agencies and scientists."