It’s no secret that invasive species are a problem across the Unites States, and Florida is a hot spot. These plants and animals cost the economy billions in terms of agricultural losses and management and can cause immeasurable damage to the environment with impacts from invasive species being a frontrunner for species extinction.
But what is an invasive species? Why are they bad and how did they get here? There are plenty of terms you may have heard, which can be super confusing, and many have their own connotations that aren’t very helpful and can mean a multitude of things to folks.
Hearing the word “exotic” may sound alluring while “non-indigenous” may paint a negative picture in one’s mind but can be used to describe the same plant or animal. We should avoid using these unclear terms and get the terminology straight.
An invasive species is a nonnative organism that lives outside its geographic range, was introduced by people – whether intentionally or unintentionally – and can cause harm to the environment, economy or humans. If the organism is not from here and is not causing harm to those three pillars, it’s considered “nonnative.”
If its native to the area but has invasive characteristics, then it’s a “nuisance” organism. Many of these nonnative organisms pose little to no threat if managed and kept in captivity, but once they’re introduced to the environment, they can be a serious threat if they have become established. By “established,” we mean they have a self-sustaining, reproducing population without the need for human intervention.
The most effective and cost-efficient way to manage nonnatives is through education and preventing them from being introduced to the environment. Those actions should be followed by early detection, rapid response, reporting sightings to scientists using tools like the IveGot1 app so managers can be aware of, and remove, new invaders before they become established and become a real problem.
Luckily there are plenty of resources, groups and events that help promote awareness and education of invasive species. Many of these invaders may have come from the pet industry, agriculture/aquaculture, hitchhikers from visitors or on imported materials.
It’s essential to practice responsible pet ownership and not release any of your pets. It’s also best to avoid introducing aquatic plants or animals to new ecosystems and to make sure whatever you’re planting or importing is legal. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission even has Exotic Pet Amnesty Days to give pet owners the opportunity to surrender nonnative pets that they are no longer able to keep. So don’t let go of that turtle that’s getting too big for your tank or that pet fish that’s picking on its buddies.
Here's something else you can do, particularly on the fishing side. If you’re an angler or you’re interested in learning about invasive freshwater fish, come check out the 2023 SWFL CISMA Invasive Fish Roundup weigh-in on Sunday, May 7. In this tournament, folks harvest invasive fish such as Mayan cichlids, tilapia, armored catfish and more to win prizes while reducing the impacts of these invaders on our local environment. The weigh-in portion will also include plenty of education and activities free to the public.
The competition runs from May 5 to May 7 and includes all legal freshwater fishing areas in Hendry, Glades, Lee, Collier and Charlotte Counties.
Weigh-in will be at Bass Pro Shop, 10040 Gulf Center Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33913 on May 7. Scales will be open from noon until 3 p.m. Each team will receive a random 30 minute time slot in this three hour window. Exact weigh-in times will be sent out by the end of Friday, May 5. Winners MUST be at the weigh-in location at 3 p.m. when prizes will be announced to receive a prize.
Prizes will be awarded for the top three heaviest catches in the junior and adult divisions and for the top three heaviest fish in the junior and adult divisions. There will also be prizes for the top “invasive slam” – the catch with the largest variety of invasive species.
To register for the roundup or learn more, check out the event’s registration page at bit.ly/2023CISMA.
If you have additional questions, please email Mike Sipos at Sipos624@ufl.edu, or Mitch Barazowski at Mitchell.Barazowski@CollierCountyfl.gov