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Biocontamination Index proves Manx rivers are invader free 29 October 2008

Biocontamination Index proves Manx rivers are invader free The Government Laboratory has used a new Biocontamination Index to check whether Manx rivers contain mainly native insects, snails and crustaceans, or have been contaminated by alien invader species. The study has shown our rivers to have fewer invader species than other countries that have used the Index like Germany, the Netherlands and Russia. It also suggests that our rivers contain fewer invaders than most inland waterways in the UK.

Biopollution can have severe impacts in the water world. In Britain’s rivers, invaders like the Chinese mitten crab and the North American signal crayfish can cause tremendous damage. Mitten crabs and signal crayfish eat anything they come across including fish eggs, plants and snails. They also burrow into riverbanks, making them collapse. The signal crayfish pushes out the native crayfish, and spreads a deadly crayfish plague.

John Shimmin, DLGE Minister, said, ‘It’s great to be certain that our streams and rivers are currently free from animal invaders, such as signal crayfish and Chinese mitten crabs. These animals are incredibly destructive and it’s essential that we avoid their introduction here on the Isle of Man. The Government Laboratory has been contacted many times recently by people wanting to import signal crayfish – and it’s vital that they don’t.’

The Biocontamination Index counts how many different types of animal invader are found in a river and has been used in several European countries. Biopollution can be bad news for anglers, as invaders can reduce or even wipe out fish populations that rely on native species for food. Using 2007 data, gathered while undertaking routine water quality monitoring, the Government Laboratory has been able to check biocontamination levels in Manx rivers. Scientists used standard biological and chemical indicators that pick up the effects of sewage, chemicals or farm waste on water quality and insect life.

In this study more than half of Manx rivers showed no biocontamination at all, while less than a third showed biocontamination by smaller, less noticeable invaders such as alien species of shrimps and snails. To date the Isle of Man has neither mitten crabs or signal crayfish.

Dr Calum MacNeil, Freshwater Biologist at the Government Laboratory, said, ‘The results of this study are good news for local wildlife and show most of our rivers functioning precisely as they should. The sea is a natural barrier to freshwater invaders from Britain and Ireland, but we must ensure no one introduces animals such as signal crayfish to the Island’s rivers or to ponds and lakes on private land. These animals are highly mobile as well as very damaging – even just a few animals escaping into the wild could cause considerable and permanent damage to native animals and their environment.'

‘Once free in our rivers, these invaders would be impossible to eradicate and there would be little we could do to stop them reaching all areas of the Island. Any introduction or release into the wild is illegal and an offence under the Wildlife Act – but legal action after the event cannot reverse the damage to the environment, only punish the offender. It’s the responsibility of all of us to keep our rivers as natural and invader free as possible.’

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