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Behind the scenes – Implementing Projects in the age of COVID-19

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

Regional information gathering in Ecuador. Photo credit: DIRNEA

The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a series of policy measures across the world aimed at stimulating national economies to bring them up to speed and reactivate livelihoods. Much of this economic recovery is expected to tap into natural resources provided by our oceans and explore how to increase the contribution of their ecosystem services – the much-touted Blue Economy.

The essential role played by biodiversity faces challenges such as climate change, pollution and habitat fragmentation. But there is another silent yet equally intimidating way we could lose our biodiversity, which is through species invasion. These are non-indigenous species that are introduced outside their native range. Once they survive, and given the right scenario, they establish their populations and, as there are no natural predators in the newly invaded areas, they can become pests. If the species invasion is unattended to, it is just a matter of time before we see many native species, of which some may be poorly known and understood to science, being extirpated from their local range. This in turn will diminish the ecosystem services they have evolved to provide.

Styela clava typically affects aquaculture pens - Photo credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Shipping is the most common route by which non-indigenous species are introduced into new areas. Vessels can transport species in two ways, through the discharge of ballast water or through biofouling. Biofouling occurs when species attach to the hull, sea chest, anchor chains or other structures on a ship and are transported as unwelcome passengers around the world.

Indonesia: making first assessment of seabed sample. Credit: W.Ardiyanto

Efforts to detect and prevent introductions of non-indigenous species depend on understanding which ones are already present, particularly when working with taxonomically challenging groups like marine sponges where morphological characters are limited, and misidentifications are common. This has been the thinking behind the work conducted in Indonesia, steered by its Ministry of Transport and in collaboration with scientists from the University of Bogor, among others. As part of its strategy to assess the current status, Indonesia is conducting a programme of baseline surveys in its main commercial ports and harbours.

Indonesia: Team conducting port baseline surveys. Photo credit: W. Ardiyanto

Indonesia is a Lead Partnering Country in the GEF-UNDP-IMO GloFouling Partnerships Project and is at the epicentre of the world’s coastal and marine biodiversity, with more than 600 known coral species. For example, although sponges are a major component of the fouling community in coral areas, they remain highly understudied because they are so difficult to identify. Some invasive sponges, such as Mycale grandis and Terpios hoshinota, which are invading many locations across the Pacific and Indian oceans and have the capacity to kill corals. In the case of T.hoshinota, it grows symbiotically with several cyanobacteria and is known for occasional massive outbreaks where it smothers and kills corals and other sessile organisms that would be devastating to the tourism industry. Understanding how these and other species are transferred from one location to another is a key aspect of preserving local habitats.