“If You Know the Enemy and Know Yourself”: Addressing the Problem of Biological Invasions in Ports Through a New NIS Invasion Threat Score, Routine Monitoring, and Preventive Action Plans
Invasive alien species (IAS) are currently considered one of the greatest threats to global marine ecosystems. Thus, ships and maritime activity have been identified as the main factors responsible for the vast majority of accidental species translocations around the world, implying that prevention should be the core of environmental port policies. Preventive port strategies should include analyzing risks based on traffic origins and volumes, revising port policies for inspections, estimating probabilities of non-indigenous species (NIS) appearance, monitoring routine species within ports, and finally implementing management plans and focused actions. Here, we conducted a comprehensive NIS prediction analysis for the port of Gijon (northern Spain), one of the largest ports in the south Bay of Biscay, as a case study that can be extrapolated to other international seaports. An extensive bibliographic search (1953–2020) was conducted and we identified 380 species that have been transported through hull fouling and ballast water around the world. We evaluated their likelihood of arriving (from 14 years of traffic data) and becoming established (from habitat suitability and demonstrated impacts and invasion ability) within the Gijon port, creating a new NIS Invasion Threat Score (NIS-ITS). This new index could help to identify target species that are likely invaders for early detection and prevention policies within the port. The results showed that 15 NIS had >90% likelihood of becoming a biological invasion problem in Gijon Port. At the same time, we reported morphological and genetic analysis of biota found in two successive annual monitoring surveys of Gijon port and ships (n = 612 individuals) revealing 18 NIS, including 6 of the NIS predicted from high NIS-ITS. Actually, 80% (12 NIS) of those potentially most dangerous species (NIS-ITS > 90%) have already been detected in the Bay of Biscay area. We propose the use of this new tool for a risk-reduction strategy in ports, based on accurate predictions that help in promoting specific early detection tests and specific monitoring for NIS that have a high chance of establishment. All international seaports can adopt this strategy to address the problem of biological invasions and become “blueports” in line with EU policy.