For Immediate Release - July 29, 2010

State Researchers Survey Massachusetts Coast in Search of Non-Native Species that Threaten Local Marine Environments

BOSTON - July 28, 2010 - A team of 20 scientists led by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sea Grant program will scour docks and piers along the Massachusetts coast from Cape Cod to Cape Ann this week, searching for and identifying non-native marine species.

The four-day Massachusetts sweep is part of a seven-day effort to collect, identify and catalogue marine organisms in coastal waters from Cape Cod through Maine's mid-coast. While some of these introduced species will never become established populations, others pose a great threat to the Commonwealth's environment, economy and public health.

"Invasive species can have devastating consequences for native marine ecosystems and present unique challenges for stewards of bays, beaches and estuaries - the very places that give the Massachusetts coast its special character," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles, whose office includes CZM. "This week's survey will give us the up-to-date information we need to safeguard natural resources along the Commonwealth's shoreline."

CZM and MIT Sea Grant, a research program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are coordinating the inspection of permanently floating docks and rocky shores in Westport, New Bedford, Sandwich, Bourne, Plymouth, Boston, Salem and Gloucester. Goals of the study include developing a baseline inventory of marine species, identifying species recently introduced to local ecosystems and helping natural resource managers prevent and control future invasions of non-native species. Surveys in 2000, 2003 and 2007, revealed over 30 introduced marine organisms, several of which were identified for the first time in New England coastal waters.

"Factors such as international shipping and the growth of aquaculture have recently accelerated the spread of non-native species into local waters," said Deerin Babb-Brott, EEA Assistant Secretary for Ocean and Coastal Zone Management and CZM Director. "This rapid assessment survey helps us to identify problem areas so we can find solutions. I'd like to thank all of the researchers who are contributing their time and expertise to make this ambitious effort a success."

In New England coastal waters, the European green crab and Asian shore crab prey on commercially valuable native shellfish, while other invasive species damage piers and pilings, clog pipes and cause public health problems through disease and pathogens. Of particular concern is recent discovery of the fast-growing sea squirt Didemnum vexillum on the highly productive shellfish beds of Georges Bank. With the potential to cover the sea floor like a mat, this species threatens to impact scallop fishing.

The following is the research schedule for the rapid assessment survey:

  • July 26 - Westport
  • July 27 - Sandwich Marina in Sandwich, Popes Island Marina in New Bedford and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne
  • July 28 - Rowes Wharf in Boston and Brewer's Marine in Plymouth
  • July 30 - Winter Island and Hawthorne's Cove in Salem and the Gloucester State Fish Pier

Other organizations participating and providing funds and support for this week's survey include the Massachusetts Bays Program, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel, Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership, Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and Rhode Island Bays, Rivers, and Watersheds Coordination Team. Scientists participating in the project include CZM staff and researchers hailing from The Netherlands, Brazil and across the United States.

Editor's Note: To join any of the events, contact Bruce Carlisle at (617) 626-1205 or Anne Donovan at (617) 626-1213.