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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

In Like a Lionfish, Part 2

Posted by | March 15, 2014 | Filed under: Opinion

Best way to deal with invasive green crab


The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune and Making It At Home Sunday editions, 3/16/2014.

In my last column (Sunday 3/2), I wrote about invasive plants and bugs, and how my bringing firewood into Maine from away could be biting off more than I could chew. This week, I’m still thinking about what’s eating our wood. Specifically, the wooden frame around the eave of my house.

I’m pretty sure it’s a starling, and if it is, then I’m also giving up Shakespeare for Lent.

Near the turn of the 20th century, Eugene Shieffelin, a wealthy New York industrialist and Shakespeare buff, decided to bring all the birds appearing in the Bard’s plays to America. The starlings mentioned by Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1, arrived throughout 1890-91, when Shieffelin released 100 birds in Central Park. By 1990, European starlings had spread all the way to California, their population exceeding 150 million.

The national starling murmuration (the official plural one uses to refer to lots of starlings) do more than $800 million a year in damage to crops and property. In 2014, that’ll include the couple hundred bucks it’s going to cost me to fix the hole in my eave. But I suppose it could be worse: in 1960, 10,000 starlings brought down a jetliner taking off from Logan, killing 62 people.

Incredibly, invasive species now cost our society more than $120 billion-with-a-B each year. You and me and everyone we know is paying that bill, to the likely tune of $400 per person per year in higher taxes, higher food costs, and other pestilential fees. If these invaders weren’t so costly, some of their names – rock snot, Chinese mysterysnail, zombie shrimp – and their histories, like the starling’s, would be comical. (Did you hear the one about how gypsy moths got to Oregon? In the trunk of a 1967 Chevy bought on eBay from Connecticut, of course.)

The speed at which invasive species can spread certainly isn’t funny: In 1991, zebra mussels arrived in New York’s Hudson River. Within a year, there were 500 billion of them, with a total mass greater than all the other living creatures in the river combined. The Asian shore crab, first found in New Jersey, spread to Bar Harbor in less than 10 years.

Because we’re a coastal research and education facility, the Wells Reserve at Laudholm is most concerned about marine invaders. For the past eight years, our researcher Jeremy Miller has been part of the Marine Invader Monitoring and Information Collaborative (MIMIC), a network of trained volunteers, scientists, and state and federal workers who track marine invasive species in the Gulf of Maine.

Jeremy recently reassured me: “Once an organism has invaded a marine ecosystem, control is difficult if not impossible. But early detection gives us the best chance for eradication… or at least management of the invaders.” That’s why the MIMIC network now has more than 100 volunteers monitoring 65 sites from Rhode Island to Maine.

Which is good, because more invaders are on the way. (Last month, the LePage administration went on red alert over green crabs.) The best defense is to be aware. National Invasive Species Awareness Week could have helped, if it hadn’t been postponed due to federal budget cuts. But all of us can still defend our Maine waters from invaders by volunteering through MIMIC or reporting exotic species sightings to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species system.

For now, March still arrives in Maine like a lion. But somewhere in the waters south of here, lionfish are creeping our way.


Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and future, exotic and native. More at

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