The Eco Letter: Dispatches on the environment, climate change, sustainable business, agriculture and energy

What’s up with Arctic shipping, climate change, and invasive species?

In Scientific American you’ll find “Melting Arctic Ice Will Make Way for More Ships–and More Species Invasions,” a story I wrote about the immense increases in shipping that are likely over the North Pole and Arctic Ocean in the coming years. This has alerted scientists studying invasive species. The Arctic is a pristine environment. Scientists are just now beginning to catalogue and classify native and nonnative species in a few select places the Arctic.

Historically, shipping has been the major pathway of invasive species introductions, accounting for 69% of invasions. The cold water over the Arctic provides special opportunities for invasions from hull fouling. In my article, I explain it this way:

Mario Tamburri, a marine scientist and director of the Maritime Environment Resource Center at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, has been researching survivorship and reproduction of organisms likely to be transported by ships by mimicking the conditions of shipping traffic. New colder, shorter routes afforded by the retreat of ice help invaders, such as mussels, barnacles and crabs, on a biological level, Tamburri says. Cold water slows metabolism of organisms, which can sustain themselves in low food conditions. “It’s like putting your groceries on ice,” he says.

 

Shorter routes also mean more organisms either attached to the hull or in ballast water are now more likely to survive the journey. Previously, the high heat and lack of light of longer trips outside the Arctic killed them off. “When ships now transport goods through the Panama Canal, for instance, through warm water and freshwater, natural barriers to invasive species are built into the shipping routes,” Tamburri says. “In the Arctic, those barriers go away.

Check out the complete story in Scientific American; or, if you prefer, it’s also published in Nature. Thanks for reading. And thank you for sharing my stories with your colleagues and social networks. As environmental journalism struggles in many media outlets, reader support means a great deal on many levels. Onward!


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Lisa Palmer

Lisa Palmer - Journalist and Writer
Email Me: my first name @ lisa – palmer.com

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