- 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 and Alabama.
The scientific 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
Organizers 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 native species.
"From 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.
"We will 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.
The survey 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 Consortium.
The Southern 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.
"Mississippi 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 participating."
Perry said the event also lays the groundwork for
other programs and future research.
"Twenty 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 the future."
Perry cites 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.
"There 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