An alien invasion threatens the United States, biologists warned Sunday, and they’re calling for a government commission to investigate the menace.
So many small sea creatures from Asia, Europe and other distant shores are turning up on America’s coasts that in some places, the native inhabitants can hardly be found.
The invaders - crabs, clams, worms, snails and mussels - travel in cargo holds, ship ballast tanks and even bait shipments, yet the public is largely unaware and the government is having a hard time stopping the onslaught.
The problem is so severe that biologists have asked the White House to do something about it. In a letter that they plan to send to Vice President Al Gore next month, more than 200 scientists are calling for a presidential commission to study the threat.
“We are losing the war against invasive exotic species, and their economic impacts are soaring. We simply cannot allow this unacceptable degradation of our nation’s public and agricultural lands to continue,” the scientists wrote.
There are comparable problems in other environments. In the rivers and lakes of central and eastern North America, invading zebra mussels clog water intake pipes and push out native species.
And on western rangelands, foreign weeds are crowding out thousands of acres of native grasses a day.
“A marine biologist returning to New England after an absence since 1970 would find a very different world today,” said James Carlton, a professor of marine sciences at Williams College.