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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, July 31) – Palau’s world-renown jelly fish lake is currently being invaded by an anemone that is taking over more than half of the lake. The lake attracts thousands of visitors to Palau on a monthly basis.

This menace to Palau’s icon is giving a wake up call in a meeting gathering nearly 50 Palauan experts, government officials, NGOs and other interested people to discuss how to start addressing the threats posed by invasive species in the marine environment.

The intentional and unintentional transfer of species around the world has boomed in recent decades. Many seas and regions have been invaded by a high number of non-native marine species. Some of these species thrive in their new habitats, out-competing native species and changing ecosystems, sometimes dramatically. "Invasive species, marine or terrestrial, represent one of, if not the most, dangerous threat to our islands" said the president of Palau, Mr. Tommy E. Remengesau, JR in his opening speech.

There are already several introduced species that have been recorded in Palau during the regular dives by members of the Coral Reef Research Foundation. The known introduced hydrozoan, Eudendrium carneum, is found in the channel linking Babeldaob to Koror and may have been introduced on the floating bridge that was transported from China in 1995. The species is currently found in two other channels south of Koror. "There are also 20 species of probable introduced ascidians and hydroids that have been recorded in Palau’s waters" said Dr Patrick Colin from the Coral Reef Research Foundation.

A prerequisite for efforts to manage the introductions and spread of invasive species in the marine environment of Palau is to know the occurrence, current distribution and abundance of these species. A baseline survey provides this basic information and is critical to enable development of management measures. ¨Baselines of both native and introduced biodiversity greatly enhances management efforts and reduces response time when an incursion occurs¨ said Professor Chad Hewitt of the Australian Maritime College.

Participants will undertake training on baseline survey design and identify the locations that are most at risk to be points of introductions. These include source point of introductions but also areas of high value and protected areas.

"Efforts to address marine invasive species in most of the world have focused on ports and harbours, but it is also important to pay attention to high value areas, such as marine protected areas, because these are often the first points where invasive species spread after ports" said Imène Meliane of the World Conservation Union - IUCN.

Indeed, MPAs generate a significant attraction for marine tourism, including recreational boating, yachting, the diving and snorkelling industry, and where allowed, fishing, and all these activities increase the risks of introducing non-indigenous marine species.

The invasion of Jellyfish Lake, which lies within a conservation area, is a clear example. "It is almost certain that the anemone was introduced by the tourists visiting the lake, as at the beginning its distribution was limited to the area near the dock" said Sharon Patris who has been studying the distribution of this anemone in the lake. "Even though the anemone is native to Palau, it is "alien" to the lake and is currently disturbing the delicate equilibrium of this unique ecosystem, she added.

This workshop and training survey are Palau’s first steps to gather baseline information on marine invasive species, and to develop policies and procedures to prevent and control them. It comes as the result of nearly two years of efforts by the invasive species committee to start addressing invasive species in the marine environment, often forgotten compared to their terrestrial counterparts.

"The invasion of the Jellyfish Lake is unfortunate but it is hopefully a wake up call for all of us, and reinforces the importance of prevention, monitoring and early response actions that we need to put in place in order to maintain Palau’s most precious marine resources and our livelihoods" said Joel Miles, Palau’s National Invasive Species Coordinator

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