intern standing in front of sign

Invasive Whatchamacallits?

Author: Adam Mottershead, Summer 2019 APNEP Intern

APNEP's Summer Intern Searches for Ways to Spread the Word about North Carolina's Aquatic Invasive Species

Hello Soundings Blog readers!

My name is Adam Mottershead and I have had the pleasure of being APNEP’s Aquatic Invasive Species Communication and Outreach Intern this summer through the State of North Carolina's Internship Program. Over the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about how aquatic nuisance species (ANS) are being managed in North Carolina, both through hands-on experiences and by talking with people from state and federal agencies about their work on the North Carolina Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan (ANSMP) Committee.

A lionfish

Aquatic nuisance or invasive species are aquatic organisms that are living outside their historic range and which cause ecological or economic harm. One reason they cause so much damage is because they can outcompete the native species that humans hunt, fish, harvest, or which generally contribute to healthy ecosystems. When an ANS moves into an area it often has no natural predators, removing one limiting factor for ANS population growth. ANS also sometimes have novel defense mechanisms, such as the lionfish’s poisonous barbs, that repel other species and maintain control of resources such as food, water, and shelter.

Creating outreach and awareness about the problems caused by invasive species is important to make sure we can contain the spread of ANS and minimize their ecological and economic damage. If people are made aware of the harm ANS can cause, they can be part of the solution by following guidelines on how to prevent transporting them and by knowing what to do if you come across one. The ANSMP committee was established as a way to coordinate aquatic nuisance species management efforts, including outreach efforts, among state, local, federal, nonprofit, and academic organizations in North Carolina.

The focus of my internship was to generate an inventory and assessment of current communication and outreach materials for aquatic nuisance species in North Carolina. Outreach is one of the primary objectives in the NC Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan, and the goal for my project was to assist the ANSMP Committee in determining how current outreach efforts can be coordinated and future efforts prioritized. In order to complete this assessment, I interviewed several members of the ANSMP Committee to learn more about their agency’s outreach and communications efforts, and then set to work finding all information I could about ANS outreach and communication in North Carolina and nationwide. For example, I would search online for brochures on ANS that educate people about the harm they cause, or for lesson plans on identifying ANS.  I researched national information as well as info from other states in order to gain a comprehensive look at what the rest of the country is doing in terms of ANS outreach.

What I discovered was that the spread of ANS outreach materials was not distributed evenly. As seen in the graph below, some aquatic nuisance species have received more attention than others in terms of quantity of outreach materials. One avenue for further examination could be to take a closer look at how this breakdown matches up with the priority ANS in the Management Plan – if a priority species is the focus of a relatively small percentage of outreach, that may represent an opportunity or need for increased species-specific outreach going forward.

 I found this unequal distribution across many of the factors I examined, including target audience, key message, and types of communication materials. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is likely in part the result of previously identified needs. For example, perhaps more outreach materials are focused on communicating with the general public than are targeting resource managers because the general public makes up a larger percentage of the population than resource managers do.

This assessment was one component of my internship, but my experience with state government went beyond collecting and entering information in a spreadsheet. I also had the opportunity to do invasive species field work with multiple government agencies, including going to the Outer Banks with the Division of Water Resources to spray for alligator weed. Alligator weed is an invasive weed, and it can contribute to flooding by clogging drainage ditches. In order to prevent this, we had to take a tanker and spray along the island's drainage ditches in order to prevent the alligator weed from spreading. I also assisted the Wildlife Resources Commission with surveying for invasive freshwater mussels, and the Department of Agriculture with releasing weevils that eat the invasive mile-a-minute vine.

The biggest thing I learned this summer is that the people I met through these interviews, field work, and other experiences are working for the government because they care about the wellbeing of the citizens of North Carolina and believe that invasive species management is an important issue for the state to address. While organizations and agencies may have differing priorities, I learned a lot from seeing how these groups are working together to achieve shared goals.

After the end of my internship, the clock will keep on ticking in North Carolina’s government agencies. People will keep working without skipping a beat, but I would encourage you to do one thing right now. Stop and think about how much effort goes into keeping our shoreline clean, having safe drinking water, have waste management centers, or parks to play in. All of these things require the help of the government, and without them none of this would be possible. My internship this summer gave me a new appreciation for the diverse activities that the Department of Environmental Quality and other government agencies are involved in. As my last week winds down, I am proud to say I served the State of North Carolina during my summer internship, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Adam Mottershead was APNEP's 2019 summer intern. After finishing his first year in the Natural Resource Conservation and Management Department at Western Carolina University, we were happy to welcome him to the APNEP team. During his last two years of school Adam took courses in Marine Biology, Outdoor Science, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Resource Management Methods.  Prior to starting his internship at APNEP Adam earned his Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America, and volunteered with them as a instructor for sustainability and soil and water awareness courses. Adam also was a member of the Soil and Water Conservation districts Envirothon program, a event used to get youth in the community involved in environmental awareness. 

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