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Invasive Species of Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves Quick Links

Exotic species are, by definition, organisms that have moved beyond their natural geographical range either via human induced, accidental, or purposeful introductions. Invasive species are known to have a negative impact on the ecosystem of a particular habitat or another species. Some of these foreign invaders come to our shores as seeds adrift in the ocean. Additionally, cargo ship bilges introduce invasive marine species and new invasive species are still arriving today. The threats invasive species pose to biodiversity and natural ecosystem function translate directly into negative economic consequences through crop failures, forest loss and negative effects on fisheries. The Exotic Pest Plant Council lists several species found within the BBAP, including Australian pine (Casuarina ssp.), Brazilian pepper (Schinus teribinthifolius) and seaside mahoe (Thespia populnea). Both Miami-Dade County Department of Natural Resource Management and Parks and Recreation Department crews have worked for decades to remove these plants from the shoreline of Biscayne Bay and to replace them with native species.

Several exotic marine animals have been documented within Biscayne Bay. These include a species of blue crab native to South America and several mollusk species. Several fish were introduced into marine waters of Biscayne Bay, in 1992 as a result of Hurricane Andrew. One of the largest problem species introduced to Biscayne Bay and surrounding waters is the Indo-Pacific red lionfish (Pterois volitans). Biscayne Bay is vulnerable to many exotic introductions because it is home to The Port of Miami with interoceanic cargo and cruise vessels. Ballast water is collected in the hull of the vessel to add to stability then released in other parts of the ocean. This water can transport a variety of species and introduce exotic species that have a planktonic life stage.

Green (Iguana iguana), black spinytail (Ctenosuara similis), and Mexican spinytail (Ctenosaura pectinata) iguanas are three exotic species with established breeding populations on lands adjacent to BBAP. Green iguanas are native to neotropics, but since 1966, have been found on Key Biscayne and in other urban areas in south Florida (Dalrymple, 1994). This species is extremely popular in the pet trade and is frequently escapes or is released. In January 2010, many iguanas died off due to three consecutive days below freezing and were reported to freeze and fall out of trees, due to the abnormal temperatures. Extreme weather conditions, such as this, help to reduce the number of all invasive or exotic species in south Florida.

Red lionfish

Red lionfish
Photo: Joe Marino

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Last updated: June 27, 2014

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