Invasive and Exotic Species Researched by the SEFSC

Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNC-Wilmington, CIOERT

What are "exotic" species?

Exotic species are a species that is moved from its original range to a new one, but is not reproducing in that new range.

What are "invasive" species?

Once reproduction of an exotic species occurs in the new range, it is considered an invasive species.

Which of these ornamental fish species are found in the Southeast U.S. area?

Florida has more ornamental marine fish species observed than any other state. To date, 23 species of ornamental marine fish have been reported to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Aquatic Invasive Species (NAS) off of Florida. The species range from damselfish to sharks.

Lionfish (Pterois volitans, Pterois miles), originally a Pacific and Indian Ocean species, have become a rapidly spreading exotic species in the Western North Atlantic and Caribbean sea.

The Roi exit arrow icon, (I) a species of already invasive grouper in Hawaii was first reported off Florida through SEFSC contacts in 2004.

The first exotic shark, the brown banded bamboo shark exit arrow icon (Chiloscyllium punctatum), reported in the Atlantic in 2006 was also channeled through SEFSC contacts in our office.

Other species reports have been submitted for red (blue) crabs, Callinectes bocourti, and two species of cichlids as well as numerous Florida and Caribbean lionfish reports since 2006.

What research is being done on exotic and invasive species?

NOAA is interested in assisting in observing, monitoring of newly found exotic species, and studying their effect on inshore habitats and commercially important fish species. In cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), we established "ballast" water cooperative research and standards. NOAA is also involved in observing, monitoring, and mitigating invasive species in partnership with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and REEF exit arrow icon (non profit).

We work in cooperation with USGS National Aquatic Invasive Species for monitoring and reporting.

What can I do to help?

Do not ever release a pet fish!

Sea Snakes?

Sea snakes are aquatic relatives of coral sankes and cobras, but belong to their own family Hydrophiidae. All are highly venomous and lethal. As a group, they only live in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There are zoological parks that have or have had Pelamis platurus and Laticauda colubrina, but no releases have occurred (intentional, storm-related, or otherwise).

Reports of sea snake sightings have increased with approaching completion dates of the Panama Canal expansions project, but these sightings are likely spotted snake eels.

To determine what you saw, the easiest solution to this is to ask yourself four questions:

  1. Does it have fins not including a flattened tail (not true fin)?
  2. Does it have a flattened (side to side) paddle tail? (most important - all sea snakes have this--not the same as a tail fin)
  3. Was it yellow and black (only) with a paddle tail?
  4. Was it starkly banded white / black with a paddle tail?

If you answered either "yes" to 1 and no to 2, it is not a sea snake. If it has no fins and has a paddle shaped tail (not tail fin), it could be a sea snake. If it was yellow and black (3), it could be the yellow bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus), which does live on the Pacific side of Panama in huge number. A frequently perpetuated incorrect urban legend involves one or more P. platurus making it through the Panama canal on their own or in a vessels balast, often quoted by those reporting. Ballast exchanges have insured this species has not made it to the Atlantic. This species cannot crawl on land or the deck of a boat due to their bodies' modification for swimming (flat from side to side).

If you answered no to question 3, that leaves question 4 the "bandy bandy" Laticauda calubrina, whose range only includes the western central Pacific, not near the Panama canal. Unlike all other sea snakes, bandy bandy can, in fact, come out on land, and does lay eggs on the land. It has been kept in zoological collections, but--like all sea snakes--is prohibited from private sale in the U.S. Very few collections include these species, and there have been no releases of yellow bellied sea snakes or bandy bandy into the Atlantic.

So, what did I see...?

You have seen one of the native species of eels who often swim at the surface at night.

Photos of commonly seen species of spotted snake eels:

spotted snake eel    spotted snake eel

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