Mitigation of marine invasive species on South Georgia | Polarjournal
Introduced invasive species can pose a threat to native species in any marine habitat, perfectly adapted to conditions but often unable to withstand unusual competition or new predators. Photo: Twitter/Blue Belt Program

Invasive non-native species are a major problem worldwide as they increasingly displace native species. The migration and introduction of alien species into new areas pose a major threat to native biodiversity not only on land, but also in the oceans. The government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, in collaboration with Falkland’s South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), has therefore launched a project to raise awareness specifically of marine invasive species and identify the potential risk they pose to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. South Georgia has already successfully eradicated introduced rats and deliberately introduced reindeer that threatened native fauna and flora.

They stick to ships’ hulls or travel in ballast water – the conquest of new territories by alien species far from their natural range is an everyday occurrence in the globalized world. It is estimated that current shipping traffic alone transports 10,000 different species in ballast water between biogeographical regions, and this is just one of many vectors. The ecosystems of remote natural paradises with large numbers of endemic species, such as South Georgia, are particularly sensitive to disturbance by non-native invaders. These often threaten native biodiversity through habitat disturbance, direct competition, predation, disease, and genetic pollution. Therefore, it is enormously important to prevent the introduction of alien species, especially in such fragile areas, and to prevent them if possible.

The Blue Belt program was launched by the UK government in 2016 to protect and sustainably manage the marine environment of the UK’s overseas territories. Thanks to the program’s support, the protection of marine areas totaling more than 4.3 million square kilometers has been enhanced. The “Blue Belt” extends from tropical islands such as Ascension to South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and into Antarctica. The size of the marine protected area around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is 1.2 million square kilometers. Map: UK Government

As part of the newly launched project “Safeguarding South Georgia’s Blue Belt: Marine invasives mitigation,” led by Dr. Dan Bayley, a marine ecologist at SAERI in the Falkland Islands, will investigate and analyze mechanisms and pathways through which potential invasive non-native species enter. Risk assessments are also being developed to mitigate the threat. The initiators hope that stakeholder engagement and the workshop will raise awareness and help develop measures to protect the marine environment. After all, if ecosystem functions and services are disrupted, it ultimately harms the economy.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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