NEWPORT, Ore. - Scientists from the United States, Canada, Japan and Russia will conduct a "rapid assessment survey" of three Oregon estuaries next week, looking for invasive species such as the marine tunicate, Didemnum vexillum, found earlier this year in Coos Bay and Winchester Bay.

These scientists are here a week before for the annual conference of the International North Pacific Marine Science Organization, which is called PICES. It will meet Oct. 22-31 in Portland.

Nations hosting this conference also host cooperative on-site surveys for introduced species, conducted by scientists from participating countries, according to George Boehlert, director of Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center and one of two United States members on the PICES governing board.

"It provides an opportunity to train scientists on surveying techniques, assess local estuaries for potential problems, and share information on common invasive species," Boehlert said. "Many of the non-indigenous species on the West Coast originated in Asia, so the opportunity to work with scientists from Japan, Russia and elsewhere is highly beneficial."

OSU scientist John Chapman, an aquatic invasive species specialist at the university's Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), and Thomas Therriault of Fisheries and Oceans in Nanaimo, British Columbia, are coordinating the Oct. 17-21 surveys. The surveys will include Yaquina Bay in Newport; Winchester Bay near Reedsport; Coos Bay; and a 300,000-gallon seawater tank at the HMSC.

Funding for the project will be provided by PICES through a contribution from the Japanese government, which has granted $500,000 to the organization for studies on invasive species and harmful algal blooms. Additional support is being provided by Oregon Sea Grant, a marine science program based at OSU.

This will be the first rapid assessment survey conducted through PICES in North America and also will be the first organized survey of this kind of the Oregon coast, Chapman said. Similar surveys were done prior to PICES conferences in China in 2008 and South Korea in 2009.

The scientists will sample both native and non-indigenous algae and animal species from floats, rocks and pilings, and from previously deployed "settling plates." Volunteer divers will assist with the collections from sub-tidal areas. Still photos and video images of the collected specimens will be useful in comparing the species to those around the world - and identifying their origin, conference organizers say.

A new project for logging genetic information on different species collected will provide baseline data needed to ensure more continued international research on these invading species.

Preliminary findings from the surveys will be reported at a working group meeting at the PICES conference in Portland Oct. 23-24; final results will be reported at the 2011 PICES meeting in Russia, and will be posted online at the OSU Scholars Archive.

"We don't have as many invasive species in Oregon estuaries as they do in a port like San Francisco, for example, which has so much shipping traffic," Boehlert noted. "Nevertheless, these invasive species have the potential to disrupt natural ecosystems and can be costly to contain."

Among recent invasive species issues in Oregon estuaries have been marine tunicates, which can suffocate bottom-dwelling organisms and foul equipment; a parasitic isopod that is killing mud shrimp up and down the West Coast and thereby reducing potential food sources for juvenile salmon; and green crabs that prey on prized estuary clams.

Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.


George Boehlert, 541-867-0211