Invasive Species of the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are a chain of freshwater lakes located in eastern North America, on the Canada ”“ United States border. Constituting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they make up the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth. They are sometimes referred to as inland seas, Canada and the United States Third Coast, or the Industrial Heartland.

The Great Lakes region constitutes not only the five main lakes themselves, but also countless minor lakes and rivers, as well as around 35,000 islands.




The lakes are confined by the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New York Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, not all of the lakes boundary on all of these regions. Four of the five lakes create part of the Canada-United States border, the fifth, Lake Michigan, is comprised completely within the United States.

The Saint Lawrence River, which points out the same international boundary for a portion of its course, is the primary exit of these interconnected lakes, and streams through Quebec and past the Gaspe Peninsula to the northern Atlantic Ocean.

Great Lakes Circle Tour

The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system joining all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Statistics

The Great Lakes include roughly 22% of the world’s fresh surface water: 5,472Ā cubic miles (22,810Ā km3), or 6.0Ć—1015 U.S.Ā gallons (2.3Ć—1016 liters). This is enough water to clothe the 48 contiguous U.S. states to a uniform depth of 9.5Ā feet (2.9Ā m). Although the lakes include a large percent of the world’s fresh water, the Great Lakes form only a small part of America’s drinking water (roughly 4.2%). The united surface area of the lakes is around 94,250 square miles (244,100Ā km2)-almost the same size as the United Kingdom, and bigger than the U. S. states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire combined. The Great Lakes coast measures nearly 10,500 miles (16,900 km); on the other hand, the length of a coastline is impracticable to measure exactly and is not a well defined measure.

2. Aquatic Invasive Species

Aquatic Invasive Species pose an ever- growing danger to the health of our Nation’s ecosystems. NOAA’s mission to defend, renew, and control the use of U.S. ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources drives its program to diminish economic and environmental impacts resulting from aquatic incursions.

What are Aquatic Invasive Species?

What are Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are aquatic and terrestrial organisms and plants that have been introduced into new ecosystems (i.e. Great Lakes, San Francisco Bay, Florida, and Hawaii) throughout the United States and the world and are both harming the natural resources in these ecosystems and threatening the human use of these resources. AIS are also supposed to be “nuisance”¯ species or “exotic”¯ species and the terms are frequently used equally.

A main danger to the health and survival of all coastal ecosystems results from the insertion of exotic species via the ballast water of oceangoing ships, deliberate and fortuitous releases of aquaculture species, aquarium specimens or bait, and other means. Foreign usurpers like the green crab, zebra mussel and Pacific jellyfish have forced out native species and reduced biodiversity, resulting in enormous economic impacts and basic destruction of coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.

“Invasive species are a major driver of changes in freshwater community structure, ecosystem function, and ecosystem services. This applies not only to small lakes but also to the Laurentian and African Great Lakes. Until recently, however, ecologists had little capacity to forecast””and therefore prevent””the introduction, spread and impact of species likely to cause net financial or environmental harm.”¯ [5]

3. Impacts

Every year, the introduction of harmful, non-native species into the U.S. has been growing. Collectively, these nuisance species make colossal impacts to various things valued by many Americans. Ultimately, the cost of invasive species (terrestrial and aquatic) in the United States numbers to more than $100 billion each year. Reduce game fish populations. One of the most important impacts of Aquatic Hitchhikers is on game fish populations. Game fish have been influenced in numerous ways. “The Great Lakes have a long history of aquatic nonindigenous species (ANS) introductions ”“ both intentional and unintentional. As of 2007, over 180 nonindigenous species have been reported to have reproducing populations in the Great Lakes basin, i.e. lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, St. Clair, Erie, Ontario, and their connecting channels and water bodies within their respective drainages.”¯[6] The two most recent ANS reported and verified established in the Great Lakes basin were viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), and Hemimysis anomala.


3.1 Directly killed by nuisance species

Some nuisance species such as sea lamprey and whirling disease kill game fish directly. Sea lampreys were found in Lake Michigan because of their influences on Lake Trout.

Actually, until fisheries biologists experimented with different check measures, the entire Lake Trout population was on the verge of crashing due to the sea lamprey incursion. Nowadays, Canada and the U.S. governments co-operate to preserve an upper hand in the battle with the sea lamprey.

The provenance of the sea lamprey in Lake Ontario is unresolved with Smith (1995) and Mandrak and Crossman (1992) [7] arguing that it was non-native and Bailey and Smith (1981), Daniels (2001), and Bryan (2005), [8] among others, arguing that it was native. Regardless of its status in Lake Ontario, virtually all agree that it subsequently spread to the rest of the Great Lakes after the opening of the Welland Canal.

Under the leadership of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, bi-national approach expends around $14 million to fight against sea lamprey.

Whirling Disease is consequence of a non-native parasite that adheres itself to trout and salmon. The parasite permeates the head and spinal cartilage and reasons the fish to swim erratically (whirl) and have difficulty feeding and evading predators. Because the fish cannot feed properly it eventually dies.

Through decrease of their food sources: Species such as the zebra mussel, mudsnails, and round goby influence the food chain for native fish. In areas where gobies have become prescribed, fishery managers have discovered material decreases in local populations of sculpins and darters which then influence the food chain of fish such as smallmouth bass and walleye. Zebra mussels demolish the food chain by removing essential quantities of phytoplankton from the water, which are in turn food for larval and juvenile fish, which are in turn food for sport and commercial fisheries.

Zebra mussel infestations in the Great Lakes and inland waters explain the severity of the problems stemming from ANS introduction and spread. This nonindigenous mollusk is an efficient filter feeder that competes with native mussels and influences fish populations by diminishing food and available spawning habitat. The utility and manufacturing industries around the region, depending on Great Lakes water for making, are spending substantial time and money cleaning intake release

pipes clogged by the zebra mussel. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service values the economic influence to these industries to be $5 billion dollars over the next decade.

“Stepien found that the invasion of the zebra mussels in North America appears to have been founded from many sources in northwestern and northcentral Europe, from which most shipping to the Great Lakes originates. The closest genetic matches were with zebra mussels from the Netherlands, the Rhine River, and Poland.”¯[9]


Negatively impacting reproduction: Non-native species such as the common carp can make waters so turbid that eggs of native fish cannot survive. Others such as the round goby will feed on the eggs and fry of game fish. Nuisance plants, such as purple loosestrife, take over wetlands and remove native plants animals depend on for shelter and nesting.

3.2 Reducing oxygen content

Nuisance plants such as water hyacinth and hydrilla decrease oxygen levels in the water putting stress on fish settled times of the year as well as practically producing fish kills due to lack of oxygen. Ruin boat engines and jam steering equipment

Another important influence of Aquatic Hitchhikers is the effect on recreational boats.

Non-native plants such as hydrilla and water hyacinth can clog water intakes on motors and in this way overheat and destroy your engine. Zebra mussels can also clog water intakes and have the potential to adhere themselves to the prop and all areas of the motor, in this way either affecting the performance of the engine and or practically jamming steering equipment. Make lakes and rivers unusable by boaters and swimmers. Some harmful, non-native species, specifically plants like hydrilla and water hyacinth are so injurious that they entirely clothe the waters they encroach. Water become so choked with these non-native plants that it is actually impracticable to get a boat through and there is no open water left for swimmers to have.

Other nuisance species such as zebra mussels leave sharp-edged shells along swimming beaches which can be a danger to unprotected feet.

Dramatically growth the operating costs of drinking water plants, power plants, dam maintenance, and industrial processes. Industrial water users and businesses such as public utilities, power plants, municipal drinking water facilities and manufacturing industries all require a permanent supply of water. Nevertheless, with the proliferation of these injurious, non-native species like zebra mussels, many industries have had to evolve costly control ways to preserve their water intake systems. The costs accrued from these control ways are in fine passed onto users, like you and me. The Great Lakes gives a good example of the extent of aquatic nuisance species influences. Water users in the region expend tens of millions of dollars on zebra mussel control every year. The zebra mussel adheres to hard surfaces and settle on structures like those used for power and municipal water treatment plants. These industrial plants have told important decreases in pumping capabilities and occasional shutdowns. Here are some figures that point these influences. Affected municipalities and industries, using large volumes of Great Lakes water, expended nearly $360,000 per year on zebra mussel control; Small municipalities averaged $20,000 per year on control efforts. Nuclear power plants averaged an additional $825,000 of additional costs per year for zebra mussel control. The bottom line is that as zebra mussels and other aquatic hitchhikers spread to inland lakes and rivers across North America, like the Mississippi River Basin and Lake Champlain, so do the costs to water users.

3.3 Reduce native species

Invasive species influence nearly half of the species nowadays registered as threatened or Endangered under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act. The section above on game fish covers how the native fish species are affected, but native plants and wildlife that live around the waters are also affected. Other species of concern that have intruded Great Lakes waters contain round goby, sea lamprey, Eurasian ruffe, purple loosestrife, Eurasian watermilfoil, and spiny and fishhook waterfleas. Although not yet colonized in the Great Lakes, several species of Asian carp are under surveillance for their potentially destroying effects upon the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence ecosystem. Species of concern contain the bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molotrix) and black carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus). These species fit the profile of successful Great Lakes usurpers because of their massive agility, high reproductive faculty and greedy consumption habits. Injurious, non-native aquatic plants such as purple loosestrife, Eurasian watermilfoil and hydrilla quickly establish themselves supplanting native plants. In addition to reducing our nation’s biological variety by eliminating native species, the plants reason other essential environmental and economic problems.

3.4 Degrade ecosystems

In our natural world, everything is linked to everything else. When one aspect of an ecosystem is affected, it produces a domino affect resulting in many unforeseen changes. Zebra mussels give a good instance of how aquatic hitchhikers can make pronounced ecological changes. In the Great Lakes, the zebra mussel’s fast reproduction, coupled with its consumption of microscopic plants and animals, has affected the fragility of this system’s entire aquatic food web.

The influences of rusty crayfish are another good example. They diminish aquatic plant abundance and species varieties. Submerged native aquatic plants are significant habitat for invertebrates (which give food for fish and ducks), shelter for young game fish or forage species of fish, and nesting areas for fish. Also once native vegetation vanishes, erosion can happen (plants minimize impact of waves) further adding to the degradation of an ecosystem.

Nuisance plant invasions trigger several domino affects. Water hyacinth is an instance of a nuisance plant that degrades water quality by blocking photosynthesis, which greatly decreases oxygen levels in the water. This produces a cascading effect by decreasing other underwater life such as fish and other plants. Water hyacinth also decreases biological variety, influences native submersed plants, change immersed plant communities by pushing away and crushing them, and also change animal communities by blocking access to the water and/or eliminating plants the animals depend on for shelter and nesting.

Another nuisance plant, purple loosestrife has taken over numerous wetlands. This injurious non-native plant has crowded out native vegetation and has influenced migratory birds. As a result waterfowl hunting and bird watching possibilities have lowered in areas affected by this plant. The common carp is an example of a nuisance fish that has created an important influence. It feeds by browsing on submerged vegetation – uprooting plants on which ducks feed, muddying the waters and demolishing food and cover needed by other fish.


3.5 Affect human health

As essential filter feeders, zebra mussels may grow human and wildlife exposure to organic pollutants such as PCB’s and PAHs.

Early investigation denotes that zebra mussels can rapidly accumulate organic pollutants within their tissues to levels more than 300,000 times greater than concentrations in the environment. They also put these pollutants in their pseudofeces. These contaminants can be passed up the food chain so that any fish or waterfowl consuming zebra mussels will also gather these organic pollutants. Moreover, human use of these same fish and waterfowl could produce in further risk of exposure.

Other ANS incursions have been denoted to pose additional health risks. A South American strain of human cholera bacteria was discovered in ballast tanks in the port of Mobile, Alabama in 1991. Cholera strains were also discovered in oyster and fin-fish samples in Mobile Bay, resulting in a public health advisory to eschew handling or eating raw oysters or seafood.

Reduce property values

Homes or lots neighbouring to a quality water body (stream, lake, and coastal area) are valued substantially higher than those even a block away from the water. Nevertheless, these waterfront values can quickly diminish due to water quality problems. For instance, in a community in Pennsylvania, two lakes set side by side, separated only by a small land mass. Nevertheless, one lake is not able to encourage fish. The property value of homes on the fishless lake is lower than homes located a block away on the quality fishing lake. When lakes are choked with weeds where no recreation can happen, the property value is further decrease.

4. Background

Legal mandates charge NOAA with developing a program for aquatic invasive species prevention, monitoring, control, education and investigation to preclude introduction and dispersion of aquatic invasive species, to broadcast related information, and to insure leadership in the coordination of federal invasive species efforts. Under the legislation, NOAA serves as the co-Chair of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force [10], an intergovernmental organization devoted to preventing and controlling aquatic nuisance species, and implementing the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act (NANPCA) of 1990. NOAA Research heads the coordinated NOAA-wide invasive species program through leadership under two important investigation, outreach, and education programs: The National Sea Grant Aquatic Nuisance Species Program [11] and the GLERL Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Species Program [12]. Sea Grant was among the first to react to the zebra mussel incursion of the Great Lakes in the 1980s current Pacific jellyfish incursion of the Gulf of Mexico. Sea Grant goes on to react with integrated, multi-state program of investigation, and it has grown public awareness of the rising rate of “biopollution”¯ by foreign species through conferences, information clearinghouses, newsletters and comprehensive Web sites, including Nowadays, NOAA Research works at the local, state, national and international levels to direct the AIS problem and the influences AIS have on the environment, commerce, and trade using a six-part approach: averting, monitoring and early, discovery, fast respond, check and management, restoration, and leadership and coordination. The 2008-2012 National Invasive Species Management Plan [13], developed collaboratively by 13 federal departments and agencies and their partners, was endorsed at an August 1st, 2008 meeting of the National Invasive Species Council. The 2008-2012 Plan is a “road map”¯ for NOAA and other federal partners to point out upon five strategic purposes: Prevention; Early Discovery and Rapid Response; Control and Management; Restoration; and Organizational Collaboration.

5. Prevention and Restoration

It is much less costly to preclude an introduction then to destroy an already introduced species. For this reason, much investigation is concentrated on technology to preclude introductions. The primitive method of introduction of foreign usurpers into and between bodies of water is in marine vehicles, structures and systems coupled with the water-bore segment of world trade. As new problems are found, rationalization and revolutionary marine environmental engineering decisions will be needed. Sea Grant, GLERL and our Joint Institute partner, the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research [14] at Michigan State University, are devoted to fostering investigation to show ballast water technology and marine engineering advances to combat ANS. Averting the introduction and expanse of aquatic nuisance species is a priority for the Great Lakes Commission. Since 1991, the Great Lakes Commission has given staff support to the Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species, a binational body composed of representatives from government (state, provincial, federal, tribal), business and industry, universities, citizen environmental groups and the larger user community, which gives management on ANS investigation initiatives, policy development and information/education programs.

Monitoring, Early Detection, and Rapid Response

Technology will never be able to forestall the introduction of all species. For this reason, it is necessary to guide ecosystem monitoring in a timely and systematic manner in order to find introductions early enough that a fast response is practicable. Frequently the only method to successfully extirpate an invasive species is to take action very early in the invasion process before an infestation becomes widespread. Failure to react quickly to an incipient invasion may result in permanent control expenditures.

Restoring ecosystems is urgent in order to preclude reinfestation of invasive species. Research is required to make better understanding of the biology of invasive species and the effects of invasions, and to make better development of new restoration tools. For this reason, the NOAA program supports the development of restoration tools and works to spread information effective and cutting edge restoration techniques to coastal community leaders and managers.

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