A recent publication on “Robots as vectors for marine invasions” was compiled by a group of scientists from their experiences working with observation class micro-ROVs and the possible threats these new tools of the trade pose for marine conservation. It all started when a group of Scientists and explorers traveled from the United States to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for a capacity building program. Part of the program involved the building of 6 mini-ROVs and then using these for short research projects.
The introduction of invasive species into non-native ecosystems is among the most challenging issues facing marine management (Molnar et al., 2008; Allendorf et al., 2003) because invasive species are difficult to extirpate (Strayer et al., 2006; Panetta et al., 2006). A lack of natural predators which can lead to uncontrolled population growth can also lead to the alien species out competing native flora and fauna for resources. Collectively, these can have negative effects and may permanently alter their new ecosystems.
Potential vectors for the introduction of invasive species into new habitats include ship ballast, exotic animal trade and accidental or intentional import. The recent introduction of submersible assets like remote operated vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles has been identified as potential vectors for the introduction for marine invasions. In a sense, these threats were manageable because of the high ownership and operational costs, however, the introduction of smaller and cheaper assets like the model used in the capacity building program in PNG has all of a sudden made these assets more accessible to a broad user-base coincidentally increasing the potential for the introduction of invasive species.
5 guidelines were recommended in the paper to address the introduction of invasive species and these include include;
- Education and awareness
- Visual inspection of each robot prior to and immediately following deployment
- Freshwater soak prior to beginning an expedition and freshwater rinse at the conclusion of each dive
- Bleach soak before transporting robots between sites or prepping for long term storage
- Minimize transport between ecosystems.
MicroROV assets can be powerful tools for conservation, education and outreach but also have the potential to be vectors for marine invasions. It was strongly recommended that these guidelines be incorporated into pre- and post- dive maintenance routine of microROV users and enthusiasts. It might also be worth including these as part of the instruction/operation manuals that are supplied with these assets.
Next up, an Interview with Dr Andrew Thaler, lead author of this publication.
Allendorf, F.W. and Lundquist, L.L. (2003) Introduction: POpulation Biology, Evolution and Control of Invasive Species. Conservation Biology 17:24-30.
Molnar, J.L., Gamboa, R.L., Revenga, C., Spalding, M.D (2008) Assessing the global threat of invasive species to marine biodiversity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6:485-492.
Panetta, F.D. (2006) Evaluation of weed eradication programs: containment and extirpation. Diversity and Distributions 13:33-41
Thaler, A. D., Freitag,A., Bergman, E., Fretz, D. and Saleu, W. 2015. Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing invasive species via observation-class ROVs. Tropical Conservation Science. Vol 8(3):711-717. Available online: www.tropicalconservationscience.org