Alien Species Invading Antarctica, Experts Warn

July 6, 2006

Golf in Antarctica, anyone?

You can't set a tee time just yet, but a type of grass favored for putting greens—annual bluegrass—has taken root on King George Island, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the icy continent.

Scientists are not amused.

"Sooner or later, invasive species do become a big problem," said Maj de Poorter, an invasive-species researcher at Auckland University in New Zealand.

De Poorter is among a handful of scientists raising a call to arms to prevent the invaders from transforming Antarctica's unique ecosystems.

Annual bluegrass's recent arrival to King George Island signals a tough battle. The turf may have been transported there by a duffer on an adventure travel holiday.

And more tourists and researchers are going to Antarctica each year. For the 2006-2007 tourist season, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators expects at least 28,000 people will make the trek.

According to de Poorter, each season also sees as many as 10,000 scientists. This rise in human traffic means a greater likelihood that alien species will be introduced and take hold, she says.

"The more individuals of an alien species or nonnative species get there, the more likely something will be able to establish and live there," she said.

Another invader is the North Atlantic spider crab—males and females have been found in the waters near the Antarctic Peninsula. They likely stowed away in the ballast tanks of a ship, according to scientists.

Ships carry water in their tanks and cargo holds for stabilization at sea. Organisms that live in the water get transported to new environments when the water is dumped.

And while the invaders hitch passage to the continent on ships and planes, a warming climate is allowing more of them to survive once they arrive.

Continued on Next Page >>




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