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Two Asian Freshwater Snails Newly Introduced into South Africa

Laoshan

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Joined
14 Jun 2013
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55

A side-effect of the aquarium hobby which worries me. Tropical snails are traveling around the globe, together with aquarium plants or fish, and are finding new places to live. Potentially becoming invasive and competing with indigenous species. And potentially introducing harmful parasites. I assume the same thing happens with aquatic plants and, perhaps to a lesser extent, with aquarium fish.

Many of us hobbyists are aware of the consequences and prevent the spread of aquatic plants or snails by choosing not to dispose of plant material and tank water via the sewage system or local water bodies. But I believe there is always some degree of exposure of the local
ecosystem to “alien species”, partly caused ignorance, random chance, commercial considerations, and “things happen” ( accidents). The risk of a species becoming invasive is then probably correlated with the similarity of the local climate and habitat with the origin for the species concerned. Although some tropical species can apparently thrive outside even in temperate countries in Europe.

How to deal with these risks as a “wannabe responsible” aquarium hobbyist? I find it hard to accept that my fun and seemingly innocent hobby (disregarding costs 😅) could have such impacts. Especially as we, or at least many of us, admire nature in the representation of the aquarium habitat, this should not cause disruption to the aquatic ecosystem outside, in the real world.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Best regards,

Tom
 

Simon Cole

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25 Dec 2018
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672
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Buckingham
Hi Tom. Sorry everyone that this thread is a bit old, naughty me. I was just writing about Apple snails when I saw your thread.

Overall, it will come down to regulation. That can be banning imports, regulating the import of plants so that they are treated with pesticides first, designating and controlling the spread of invasive species, banning the sale and culture of certain species, or as a last resort, eliminating escaped populations (biosecurity). The Zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha was once the biggest concern in UK aquatic habitats because it could damage water infrastructure and outcompete native mussels, but this was probably never related to aquarium release. The Environment Agency (when it existed) and DEFRA received a lot of criticism over the amount it was spending on invasive species management, and I believe those departments were largely shut down in the 2010 "red tape cutting exercise". It was very much recognised that funding went into public education, press releases, studies, surveys, reports, management plans and all manner of bureaucracy. Experts within the civil services sector would over-emphasise their own niche specialism with invasive species, and grow ever larger teams under their own management in order to achieve higher levels of pay. But in terms of performance, they did not halt the spread. Universities too received considerable benefits in funding to design new biosecurity techniques, but the increasing scale of the problem meant that they became fairly obsolete, remarkably quickly. My favourite for ridicule being the idea that we should release hot water in the environment to kill them off. We saw exactly the same thing with Ash Dieback disease. There was a rush to get politicians from local government through to national, to allocate funding aimed at understanding, preventing and mitigating the spread of the disease by all manner of self-proclaimed experts. My favourite for ridicule being those guys that said we should inject trees with garlic juice to prevent the spread. Whereas many scientists warned that ash dieback could be unstoppable, hinting privately perhaps that it was a massive spending exercise. The UK government advisors quickly learned these lessons from the past, and without any new incoming governments, the politicians were far more weary opening the public purse to fund invasive species management. Where I worked, we saw Environment Agency staff disappear from these roles, but there were always local authorities willing to buy into the ideology because it sounded "green" and it probably made for great publicity supporting local elections.

However, the scenario is now changing as people are beginning to notice global warming on a more personal level. Invasive snail species like the Apple snail will pose a very real threat to sensitive UK watercourses in my opinion, they have escaped directly from aquariums in the UK in the past, and they may do so again one day if illegally kept. They are already a major concern in Europe, and if you had to compare climates, you might well conclude that UK winters are somewhat likely to be milder locations. You get a very stark impression of how highly wetland environments are valued if you visit somewhere like the Great Fens Project, which I felt was a bit like miniscule islands of habitat in a sea of increasingly valueless agriculture. When I drove through the car almost got caught in a dust bowl the peat was so dry! Last year wheat production in the UK dropped by 40% and there was one summer where a farmer reported 9 weeks of rain since June. The global food shortage is placing more emphasis on agricultural production rather than habitat creation (enhancement), and this leaves the fragmentated nature of wetland or riparian ecosystems very vulnerable to invasive species including snails... a trend happening worldwide. With an increased reliance on pesticides, the impact on fragmented habitats of invasive species is a big elephant in the room. The single best thing that aquarists can do with relation to invasive species in the UK is to support petitions, respond to public consultations, speak to politicians directly, and anything that can get invasive species back on the agenda. There are already fairly tight controls on the import and export of plants and living organisms, but many are getting in through the back door. Therefore it is essential that illegal distributors are identified and caught early.

The odd thing is that many aquarium plant species are making their way around the world into endemic habitats. Rotala ramosior is an interesting example. It is native to north America and has made it's way across the globe into places like Italy where it is becoming established in the wild. It will probably crop up in the UK one day. In certain parts of the USA it was once protected. Re-establishing a lost habitat destroyed by pest snails may not be as difficult as people might think if it is isolated pockets of wetland. But considering the case of the Zebra mussel (how it has spread and is harming UK watercourses) and how Apple snails are now an international problem, the control of a riparian pest snail could be almost impossible... but I am not ruling out the possibility of predatory robot-snails. For invasive plants the situation is a bit more complex, as is often the case for fish species too. Himalayan balsam covers the wetland meadows where I live - there very are few native species. The bees love it and are booming, including the rarer species, but locally people want it gone. I guess the management of each invasive species has a certain societal saliency. You can measure that through economic impacts, biodiversity loss or public opinion. If for example, Signal crayfish got into the local lake where I am staying and wiped out all the native Arctic char then there would be outrage and immediate action. Unbelievable too, Zander made their way into the River Dee in the early 2000s, and if they make their way up to Bala Lake then we could see extinction of the Gwyniad (a very rare fish). They already introduced Ruffe into that lake and they are gradually eating their way through the Gwyniad eggs each year. One pollution spill and they are probably gone forever. This is what annoys me most about conservation (especially with species like the Burbot). They could easily be bred commercially and reintroduced as an angling species in many places, but nothing happens. So many people visit places like Bala to go swimming and have no idea of the consequences of accidental fish disease release, and this really annoys me. There are no information boards giving guidance. You can even fish there for free, and there are no net sterilisation dips. There is almost no focus on critically endangered species in the UK unless it is large and fluffy. Sorry to go off on a tangent, but the situation in the UK is dire and the drool and complacency of environmental regulators is already beyond shocking. I doubt there is very much hope at all unless we glue ourselves to the pavement, get laughed at in the media, and thrown into prison for disrupting wider UK society... who as a whole frankly don't care, never have cared, and probably never will. It's not me, it's not you, and it's not us, but that is honestly where we are at right now. The quadrupling of visitors swimming, boating and fishing last year in all of our most sensitive lakes should have been considered as an environmental emergency. But the people regulating our lakes seem to have little impact or simply cannot join up the dots. Byelaws could have been introduced almost immediately under existing powers, but there is simply a lack of imagination. Playtime forgoes conservation.
 
Last edited:

sparkyweasel

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30 Jun 2011
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2,424
. . . and grow ever larger teams under their own management in order to achieve higher levels of pay. But in terms of performance, they did not halt the spread.
A cynical person might think they didn't want to stop the spread, as it would interfere with their empirre-building.
 

sparkyweasel

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Joined
30 Jun 2011
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2,424
The single best thing that aquarists can do with relation to invasive species in the UK is to support petitions, respond to public consultations, speak to politicians directly, and anything that can get invasive species back on the agenda.
If you (we, all) join your local Wildlife Trust they will keep you informed about petitions, campaigns etc. And your membership fees will help fund their work, which includes direct conservation activies and political campaigning.
The Wildlife Trusts | The Wildlife Trusts
 

Simon Cole

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25 Dec 2018
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672
Location
Buckingham
@sparkyweasel One one hand, if they did want to stop the spread, then you would have to question their judgement. On the other, they didn't and then you have to question their ethics. Decision-makers really have no choice when it comes to listening to experts. As with all groupthink, you get dominant views coerced in expert committees due to the presence of high emotional labour, and subliminal desire for them to hold onto their career. I bet they were fairly ambivalent at the time.
 

Simon Cole

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25 Dec 2018
Messages
672
Location
Buckingham
@Laoshan I just wanted to thank you for creating this thread. I have been struggling with a downturn in my own mental health recently and a complete loss of interest in life. When I read you post I read a bit of research and I am now looking into doing some research on my own to look at how this might impact the water environments local to me. I always considered biosecurity as an afterthought, but considering the potential spread of disease from salmonid farms and issues like pest snails, I am now becoming increasingly concerned for several sensitive sites close to where I am. It may sound very profound, but your post has engendered positive change in my mental wellbeing and I feel surprisingly purposeful the more I consider these challenges. This is yet another example of how the UKAPS community have positively benefitted my own mental health.
 
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