NEWPORT - It sounds scary and surprising - like some B-movie - and that's part of the message of a new exhibit now open at the Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center.

But unlike a B-movie, "Invasion of the Habitat Snatchers" is not science fiction.

It's all about those sneaky and very real aquatic pests, from Asian clams to zebra mussels, which are emerging as a major environmental threat. These aquatic invaders permanently alter habitats, harm native fish and wildlife, and lead to billions of dollars in costs to society.

The European green crab and Atlantic cordgrass have already arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and species such as the Chinese mitten crab pose a nearby threat.

Given the many pathways of aquatic species introduction, public education is critical for limiting new invasions and rapidly detecting recent arrivals, said Jon Luke, exhibit developer at the HMSC Visitor Center.

"The exhibit's primary goal is to foster an understanding of how invasive species enter and affect new environments, the factors that influence an invader's success, and how each of us can prevent future invasions," Luke said.

Visitors to the exhibit will be engaged by a mix of live displays, video and hands-on activities. They will have a close-up view of ballast water "hitchhikers," learn about invasion risks at "The Wheel of Misfortune," or take on the role of an aquatic invader in an interactive survival game.

The exhibit is the second new installation that the Visitor Center has opened in recent months. It joins the World of Wet Pets, where new displays and aquaria filled with ornamental fish deepen visitors' appreciation of this popular hobby.

The Visitor Center is now open on its winter schedule, Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Memorial Day. It is managed by Oregon Sea Grant, a marine research, education, and outreach program based at OSU.

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Jon Luke, 541-867-0357