Sunday, May 19, 2013

Don't Let It Loose!

What do Eurasian water-milfoil, American bullfrog and Oriental weatherfish have in common?  That’s correct; they are all considered aquatic nuisance species in the Pacific Northwest.  What I bet you didn’t know is that all of these species have been introduced or spread by people dumping personal aquariums or releasing pets into local water bodies.  It may seem like the most humane thing to do, but releasing your pet in the wild can have many unforeseen consequences – not to mention it’s downright cruel. 
            In the next few days, we will introduce you to a number of invasive critters that have been introduced through aquarium dumping or intentional release.  If you ever find yourself in a dilemma wondering what to do with your non-native animals or plants, play it safe and just remember - “Don’t Let It Loose”!  It’s not worth the environmental harm and economic cost associated with the introduction and spread of aquatic nuisance species. 

THE DILEMMA:  Five years ago you bought a Red-eared Slider from your local pet store. Now your turtle is getting too big for his tank and you are tired of taking care of him anyway. What should you do?

Don’t Let It Loose! Never release aquarium plants or animals into a natural water body, whether it is a small local pond, lake, or nearby river.
What kinds of critters are we talking about here?
·       Fish (aquarium fish, live bait)
·       Aquatic plants (e.g., hydrilla, Eurasian milfoil, Brazilian elodea, parrotfeather, caulerpa)
·       Crayfish
·       Snail
·       Salamanders
·       Turtles
·       Frogs
·       Crabs
·       Worms
·       Aquatic insects

THE DILEMMA:  Your aquarium is no longer functioning.  What should you do with the fish and aquatic plants in your tank?
Don’t Let It Loose!Don’t even dump it down the toilet.  It’s not good for your plumbing and the contents may still find their way into a body of water.
What are the facts?
·       Aquarium releases are one of the top five pathways of aquatic nuisance species introductions (Ruiz et al., 1997).
·       Aquarium releases are the second largest source of introduced fish in the United States (Padilla & Williams, 2004).
·       Approximately 1/3 of aquatic nuisance species that currently threaten aquatic ecosystems originate from the aquarium and ornamental species trade (Padilla & Williams, 2004).
·       A survey of 2,000 teachers from the United States and Canada found that one out of four educators released live organisms into the wild after they were done using them in the classroom (OSU, 2012)
THE DILEMMA: Your class has been studying the crayfish life cycle for the last few months.  Now that the lesson is over, what should be done with the live crayfish that were ordered online through a biological supply company?
Don’t Let It them Loose!Even if they can be found in the local area.
Why Not?
·       It’s cruel.  Your pet may slowly starve to death or become a tasty meal for a predator.
·       If it does survive, your pet may displace native populations.
·       Your pet may compete with native species for limited food resources or prey directly on native species.
·       Your pet may introduce harmful pathogens or parasites to native populations.
·       Over time your pet could establish a new population and become an invasive species.
·       In many states it is illegal!  

NOTE: Dumping non-native plants and pets into state waters is prohibited in Oregon and Washington.
THE DILEMMA:  You move into a new house with a large water garden that is completely overrun with aquatic plants.  You pull most of the plants out by hand and wonder the best way to discard of the unwanted vegetation.
Don’t Let It Loose!Take care to plant native species in backyard ponds and water gardens.
What should I do instead?
·       Educate yourself about the needs of a particular species before buying.  How big will that fish grow, how long will that turtle live, how much care does a water garden need?
·       Give unwanted pets/plants to a responsible family member or friend.
·       Donate your pet/plants to a local library, nursing home, community center, aquarium club, or school biology department.
·       Contact the biological supply company, pet store, or aquarium shop dealer about returning your pet/plants.
·       Freeze aquatic plants 24 hours and discard in the trash (not the compost bin), or seal plants in a plastic bag and place in the trash.
·       Pour aquarium water on dry land instead of a storm drain, sink or toilet.
·       Ask your educational institution to not raise or use live animals in the classroom unless permanent homes can be found for them ahead of time.
·       If all else fails, contact your local veterinarian for humane disposal options.


Oregon State University.  “New Pathway for invasive species – science teachers”.  ScienceDaily, 7 Aug. 2012.  Web. 3 May 2013.

Padilla, D. K. and S. L. Williams.  2004.  Beyond ballast water: aquarium and ornamental trades as sources of invasive species in aquatic ecosystems.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.  2: 131-138.

Ruiz, G. M., J. T. Carlton, E. D. Grosholz, and A. H. Hines.  1997.  Global Invasions of marine and estuarine habitats by non-indigenous species: mechanisms, extent and consequences.  Amer. Zool. 37: 621-632.

Submitted by Jennifer Poirier

1 comment:

  1. Good work on spreading the word, not the problem.