Soviet botanist Ivan Machurin’s immortal phrase “We cannot wait for favors from nature. To take them from it — that is our task” could be the all-encompassing slogan by which Russia’s resource-driven economy now lives.
Even though the early 20th-century scientist was primarily referring to creating plant hybrids, his philosophy underpinned many of the Soviet Union’s ambitious experiments with nature — from reversing river flows to the Kamchatka crabs that were transplanted to the Barents Sea in the 1960s in an effort to increase the productivity of the northern sea.
Half a century later, the spiny giants are the region’s most lucrative catch — but this experiment with biodiversity has had a string of economic, environmental and social effects on the fishing communities of the Barents Sea.
No Accidental Tourist
With a life span of up to 30 years and growing up to 2 meters across, the Kamchatka crab — also called the red king crab — is a hardy native of the North Pacific, taking its name from the peninsula where Russians first encountered it.
Between 1961 and 1969, scientists seeking to boost the commercial productivity of Russia’s Arctic Sea released 13,000 of the creatures and 1.6 million larvae into Kolafjord in the east Barents Sea — thousands of miles from their Pacific home.
The results of the experiment were at first disappointing. Although Norwegian fishermen soon began to find Kamchatka crabs in their nets with increasing regularity — the crabs appear to have marched toward Norway against the warm Gulf Stream current soon after being introduced — at first their presence in Soviet waters was negligible.
But the crustaceans were only biding their time.
Hawaii gardeners have the advantage of a year-round growing season that allows us to pick up plants any time of year and add them to our backyard collection. And local garden centers carry an abundance of ornamental shrubs, trees and herbs from which to choose.
The University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service wants to help home gardeners to be knowledgeable when choosing plant material. The UH Master Gardeners on Oahu have teamed up with the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to provide classes and demonstrations to the public. (See the Star-Advertiser’s Home & Garden calendar for class listings.)
What is an invasive species? Technically, according to HISC, an invasive species is an alien species — plant, animal, or microbe transported by humans to a location outside its native range — whose introduction has caused or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Basically, foreign plant material that propagates at warp speed and those seeds or plant parts that can travel long distances to naturally forested areas are termed invasive. These plants often demonstrate rapid and aggressive growth, production of numerous seeds that are spread easily by wind, wing or water, and the ability to grow under many different soil and climatic conditions.
What is the impact of invasive species? It’s the plants whose “keiki” reach the natural forested areas that take the largest toll on our native species and ecosystems. They threaten native plant habitats, reducing the number of native plants and affecting plant biodiversity, as well as the insect biodiversity that depends on those plants.
After 30 years of protecting native animals and plants, the head of Hawaii’s agricultural inspection operation leaves behind a short-handed and beleaguered team today, worried that invading species are slipping into the islands.
“Shipments are backed up but are still being inspected. That’s the good part,” said Domingo Cravalho Jr., who is retiring as inspection and compliance section chief for the state Department of Agriculture. “Because of the lack of resources and lack of inspectors and the reduction in the amount of good inspections, things are getting through. …
“It’s overwhelming at times and some individuals may be overlooking things or bypassing things. Under the circumstances, we just don’t have enough eyes and ears out there.”
Should the layoffs go forward in November as planned by Gov. Linda Lingle, not all Maui-based inspectors will disappear, according to Carol Okada, manager of the Plant Quarantine Bureau in the state Department of Agriculture.
There are inspectors in 10 positions covered by special funds who will not be affected, including six funded by the state Department of Transportation. But the six positions paid out of the state’s general fund are on the budget-cutting hit list.
Anna Mae Shishido, Maui County supervisor of the Maui Plant Quarantine Branch, wrote a letter expressing her concern about the impact of the layoffs to two Maui lawmakers – state Sen. J. Kalani English and Rep. Joe Souki.
She said the Transportation Department’s special fund specifies that the six inspectors it pays for would work at the Kahului Airport – which means they wouldn’t do maritime inspections.
As a result, Matson and other containers carrying produce, animal feed and other agricultural material would need to go to Honolulu first for inspection, Shishido said. Diverting that cargo to Oahu would mean extra handling of Maui-bound containers, adding delays and costs for consumers.
The layoffs would also mean that more than two dozen certified nurseries on Maui would no longer be able to self-certify their plant shipments to other states because state inspectors would not be available to conduct semi-annual nursery re-certification inspections, she said.
Shishido said she was alarmed about the potential for infestations of alien species without maritime inspections on Maui.
"We anticipate increased infestations of stinging nettle caterpillars and coqui frogs on Maui and new infestations of little fire ants and the varroa mite, which have not been found here so far," she said. "The safeguards we have worked so hard to put in place will be drastically decreased or completely gone. Maui will be exposed."