Beyond pythons, Florida termed “cesspool” of world’s invasive species problem

By on May 2nd, 2013

The Python Challenge isn’t the first hunt for an invasive species in Florida.


The National Ocean Service

Lionfish, a native of the Indian and Pacific oceans, are now considered established in the Atlantic Ocean. First discovered off the coast of North Carolina in 2000 by NOS, they are believed to have been present off the east coast of Florida since the mid 1990s.

The Lionfish Derby & Rodeo has been held annually since 2009, said Keri Kenning, communications and affiliate program manager for Reef Environmental Education Foundation. The foundation is a marine conservation organization based in Key Largo.

The derbies are effective in removing lionfish, the results of which will be part of a research paper publishing next year, Kenning said. The derbies also bring awareness to how dire the lionfish problem is.

The fish has no predators and eat more than 70 fish species of economic, recreational and ecological importance to Florida, she said.

The rapidly breeding invasive fish have spread from Dania Beach — about 12 minutes south of Fort Lauderdale — to as far north as Rhode Island, said Amanda Nalley, spokeswoman for the FWC’s marine fisheries management.

And yet another creature is becoming the new immediate face of species invading the Sunshine State.

Giant African land snails have stirred disgust, worry and laughs from Internet users. Twitter users have described them as slimy, gross and even cool. They’ve been called everything from threats to Florida’s crops to “the plot to a really bad 50’s (sic) sci-fi movie.”

A division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumerism held an early April symposium in Gainesville to discuss how to kill the rat-sized snails.

Whether it’s snakes, snails or fish, more risk assessments should be made before people are allowed to import new species, said Kenneth Krysko, a University of Florida biologist who studies reptiles and amphibians.

“Florida is the cesspool of the world when it comes to introduced species,” he said.

UF researcher Frank Mazzotti said even if his group is fortunate enough to eradicate the python population, other threats to native wildlife would exist. He said pythons are only “the tip of the iceberg.”

“There are other invasive wildlife species that are ready and willing to take their place as the number one problem.”

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