These Aliens Are Here to Stay (And They Are Dangerous)

Invasive alien species cross the world chiefly on board of ships, harming human health, biodiversity and the whole ecosystem

Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, May 29 2019 (IPS)

No, no, no. Nothing to do with what US and Europe’s far-right
fanatics now use to vociferate, saying once and again that
“migrants come here to destroy our democracy, our civilisation,
and our life-style”.

Rather the complete opposite—this is about a major damage that
precisely “our civilisation” and “our lifestyle” have been
causing: invasive alien species crossing the world chiefly on board
of ships, and harming human health, biodiversity and the whole
ecosystem.

Who are they?

“Invasive alien species are plants, animals, pathogens and
other organisms that are non-native to an ecosystem, and which may
cause economic or environmental harm or adversely affect human
health…

For a species to become invasive, it must successfully
out-compete native organisms for food and habitat, spread through
its new environment, increase its population and harm ecosystems in
its introduced range.

“In particular, they impact adversely upon biodiversity,
including decline or elimination of native species -through
competition, predation, or transmission of pathogens- and the
disruption of local ecosystems and ecosystem functions…

“Invasive alien species, introduced and/or spread outside
their natural habitats, have affected native biodiversity in almost
every ecosystem type on earth and are one of the greatest threats
to biodiversity. Since the 17th century, invasive alien species
have contributed to nearly 40 percent of all animal extinctions for
which the cause is known.” [2006 data]

This is how the Convention on
Biological Diversity
(CBD)
defines the
alien invasive species.

It warns that this problem continues to grow “at great
socio-economic, health and ecological cost” around the world.

“Invasive alien species exacerbate poverty and threaten
development through their impact on agriculture, forestry,
fisheries and natural systems, which are an important basis of
peoples’ livelihoods in developing countries. This damage is
aggravated by climate change, pollution, habitat loss and
human-induced disturbance.”

Invasive alien species cross the world chiefly on board of ships, and harm human health, biodiversity and the whole ecosystem

A ship crosses the Paraná River on its way to the port of
Rosario, Argentina. Credit: Marcela Valente/IPS

Where do they come from?

Globalisation has resulted in greater trade, transport, travel
and tourism, all of which can facilitate the introduction and
spread of species that are not native to an area, CBD experts the
Convention on Biological Diversity explain.

For a species to become invasive, it must successfully
out-compete native organisms for food and habitat, spread through
its new environment, increase its population and harm ecosystems in
its introduced range.

Most countries are grappling with complex and costly invasive
species problems. For example, the annual environmental losses
caused by introduced pests in the United States, United Kingdom,
Australia, South Africa, India and Brazil have been calculated at
over 100 billion dollars (CBD, 2006).

The Convention also warns that addressing the problem of
invasive alien species is “urgent” because “the threat is
growing daily, and the economic and environmental impacts are
severe.”

Ballast water

Cargo ship de-ballasting | CSIRO | Permission | Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Cargo ship de-ballasting | CSIRO | Permission | Creative Commons
Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

In poor words, ships transporting merchandise from one extreme
of the world to another, once they discharged their cargo, they
once upon a time used to load heavy stones and rocks to ensure more
stability to the vessels in their new maritime crossing. Later on,
they started to load sea water instead of stones. This is the
ballast water.

Then, upon their arrival to a new port, and before loading
another cargo, they would discharge the water (ballast water) they
loaded in another sea.

The point is that the water taken from one sea is full of living
species and organisms which are natives of that specific ecosystem.
The discharge of this ballast water obviously implies discharging
those species and organisms to a different marine ecosystem.

Some of them would simply perish, but many more would survive at
the cost of species and organisms, natives of the new habitat.

A major threat

“Ballast water is essential for the safe operation of ships.
It provides stability and manoeuvrability during a voyage and
during loading and unloading operations,”
explains
the European
Maritime Safety Agency
(EMSA). Management of ballast water
also reduces the hull stress caused by adverse sea conditions or by
changes in cargo weight as well as fuel and water.

However, EMSA also explains that the process of loading and
unloading untreated ballast water poses a major threat to the
environment, public health and the economy as ships become a vector
for the transfer of organisms between ecosystems, from one part of
the world to another.

“When ballast water is taken up in port, many microscopic
organisms and sediments are introduced into the ships ballast
tanks. Many of these organisms are able to survive in these tanks,
and, when ballast water is discharged, they are released into new
environments.”

If suitable conditions exist in this release environment, these
species will survive and reproduce and become invasive species.

“In some cases, there is a high probability that the organism
will become a dominant species, potentially resulting in: the
extinction of native species, effects on local/regional
biodiversity, effects on coastal industries that use water
extraction, effects on public health and impacts on local economies
based on fisheries.”

The Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis. This male specimen was found ashore in 150 metres distance to the banks of the Elbe river in the German federal state of Brandenburg | Christian Fischer | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis. This male specimen
was found ashore in 150 metres distance to the banks of the Elbe
river in the German federal state of Brandenburg | Christian
Fischer | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
license.

Extensive damage

The European Maritime Safety Agency further warns that
“ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of
biological materials, including plantsanimalsviruses, and bacteria. These
materials often include non-native, nuisance, exotic species that
can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic
ecosystems, along with serious human health issues including
death.”

For its part, the International
Maritime Organization
(IMO)
explains
that ballast water is routinely taken on by ships for
stability and structural integrity. It can contain thousands of
aquatic microbes, algae and animals, which are then carried across
the world’s oceans and released into ecosystems where they are
not native.

“Untreated ballast water released at a ship’s destination
could potentially introduce new invasive aquatic species. Expanded
ship trade and traffic volume over the last few decades have
increased the likelihood of invasive species being released.
Hundreds of invasions have already taken place, sometimes “with
devastating consequences for the local ecosystem, economy and
infrastructure.”

“Take-Make-Dispose”

The dominating ‘life-style’, generated by the
“Take-Make-Dispose” economic model, which is based on
over-production/over-consumption/over-commercial benefits, has
massively increased international transporting systems.

From big trucks using fossil fuel, to giant cargo ships
over-loaded with enormous containers –let alone huge oil tankers,
the fact now is that around 80 percent of global trade by volume
and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea
and are handled by ports worldwide. Updated estimates situate these
figures in 90 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively.

The United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development
(UNCTAD)
in 2016 estimated that there are more than 50,000 merchant ships
trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The
world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more
than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.

For its part, the Food and
Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
(FAO) also in 2016 estimated that some 1.1
trillion dollars-worth of agricultural products are traded
internationally each year.

This “Take-Make-Dispose” economic model has
proved
to be one of the world’s main killers due to the huge
pollution it causes for air, land and soil, marine and
freshwater.

Moreover, this prevailing economic model implies that
over one third of food is lost and/or wasted, enough to feed all
hungry people
.

Furthermore…

Invasive alien species arrive in new habitats through various
channels, being shipping the main one. Though important, they are
not the sole problem the voracious production-consumption model
brings.

For instance: containers. According to the Floating Threat
report, “shipping today means sea containers:
Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year
– China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers
annually.”

“It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions
themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic
species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural
havoc.”

There are increasing warnings of an imminent new financial crisis, not only from the billionaire investor George Soros, but also from eminent economists associated with the Bank of International Settlements, the bank of central banks.

Credit: Bigstock

More floating threats

In addition to the invasive alien species, the fact that over 80
per cent of global trade is carried by sea also implies other
invisible treats –while
ships bring coffee, snacks and TV sets, they also carry pests and
diseases
.

In its ‘A Floating
Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases
’, FAO highlights that while oil spills
garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called
“biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do
not have the same high public profile.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American
chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the
landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer –
another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new
habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long
used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office
furniture.”

The specialised world body also reminds that perhaps the biggest
“biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic
microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the
genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from
the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland,
triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass
migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad
that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a
container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot,
and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it
a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also
threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

The report A Floating
Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases
’ estimates
that up to 90 percent of world trade is carried by sea today, with
vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an
inspection method elusive.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter
just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown
marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value
fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in
Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for
long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter
hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

The list of dangers the current economic model –and “our
civilisation” and “our life-style” pose day after day is too
long to be summarised in just one report. The uncontrolled threats
of the invasive alien species are just an example.

Any hope that humans wake up… perhaps by attentively listening
to Greta
Thunberg
–and with her the already mobilised
world’s youth:

“You say you love your children above all else, and
yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes… We
cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis…if
solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then… we
should change the system itself.”


Baher Kamal
 
is Director and Editor of Human
Wrongs Watch
, where this article was originally
published
.

The post These
Aliens Are Here to Stay (And They Are Dangerous)
appeared first
on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
These Aliens Are Here to Stay (And They Are Dangerous)