Who will rid me of this turbulent pest?

Spike Millington
Chief Executive of EAAFP

Apple Snail eggs near a Wood Sandpiper © EAAFP/Eugene Cheah

We spend a lot of time promoting the protection and management of sites and habitat for migratory waterbirds. The rationale for the EAAFP Flyway Site Network is based on protecting and managing sites that can secure the long-term migratory pathways for the different species and groups of migratory waterbirds. We worry about conversion of natural habitats, through reclamation or wetland drainage, for example. But a more insidious process, also human-induced for the most part, is the introduction and spread of alien invasive species that can completely alter the nature of habitats and sites. We are familiar with the case of smooth cordgrass Spartina that threatens large areas of coastal mudflats, including the Yellow Sea of China, and just recently, Korea, rendering these habitats unsuitable for most migratory species and completely altering the ecology of the region. The good news is that we know how to control invasive Spartina. The bad news is that it is expensive and time-consuming. As they say: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

I was reminded very recently of the threat of alien invasives during a visit to Namdong reservoir, a Black-faced Spoonbill breeding site a few minutes from our office in Songdo. Tomoko was shocked to see the bright pink egg mass from the invasive Apple Snail (Pomacea sp.) on the rocks at the base of the island. She is familiar with this pest which has infested rice paddies and other wetlands in Japan and has been termed “the grossest invasive species yet”. The snails carry parasites known to infect waterbirds. This was the first time (for us) to see it in Korea.

We also spend time trying to protect and restore mangroves as part of coastal management. But, there are “good” mangroves and “bad” mangroves. For example, Mai Po Nature Reserve in Hong Kong, one of our more famous Flyway Network Sites, has native mangroves, but also non-native ones from the Americas. Management activities at the site involve limiting the spread of these non-native mangroves. Yet, at other sites and in other countries, mangroves are actively encouraged, through planting on mudflats, sometimes in the name of promoting climate resilience.

In an increasingly connected world, unintended introduction of alien species is an unfortunate side-effect. But deliberate introduction, sometimes well-meaning, can have catastrophic impacts. Not just plants, of course – rats, cats and other predators can devastate seabird breeding colonies.

Sharing experience and best practice in preventing, controlling and managing invasive alien species is important among Flyway Network Sites, and beyond (it is truly a global issue). It is a constant battle, that may need to be fought early and often. There are solutions and there are determined efforts (one NGO, Island Conservation is dedicated to saving seabirds and other native species by eradicating introduced species), so we should be optimistic. Personally, I believe Spartina eradication and control should be a top priority for management of Yellow Sea coasts. This begins with recognizing it as a problem and then developing consensus and the political will to address it.

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