Invasive species may have stowed on Homer drill-rig from Singapore

The Randolph Yost, a drill-rig came to Homer from Singapore. A Homer environmental group is worried the Yost, now docked in the Homer port, could have brought invasive species into Alaska waters. The group is criticizing the Department of Fish and Game for not checking the rig before it docked in Kachemak Bay.

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Randolph Yost (Photo by Quinton Chandler, KBBI - Homer)
Randolph Yost (Photo by Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer)

Invasive species are foreign animals, plants or fungus that move into new territory and damage or use up the resources the native species need.

That’s what Bob Shavelson, Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper, is afraid the Randolph Yost jackup rig, contracted by Furie Operating Alaska, could have brought into Kachemak Bay.

“The Smithsonian Institute came in about a dozen years ago and they found over a dozen invasive species in and around the Homer Harbor. We know it’s a problem and this is exactly how the problem occurs. You bring in animals from foreign ports and they’ve got a variety of animals attached to them,” said Shavelson.

Shavelson doesn’t know if any invasive species came with the Yost, because he said, the Department of Fish and Game didn’t inspect the rig before or during its first few days in Kachemak Bay.

“We operate under Ronald Regan’s notion of trust but verify and if you’re going to be bringing this rig through our critical habitat area and our important fisheries then somebody should be taking a look at it,” said Shavelson.

Tammy Davis is the Invasive Species Coordinator for the Department of Fish and Game. She said there’s a wide range of creatures that could have attached themselves to the Yost while it was docked in Singapore.

“…especially for infrastructure that’s in the water for a length of time. Pretty much immediately a bio-film establishes on whatever is in the water and from that invertebrates start to build on,” said Davis.

But, Davis said Fish and Game is not required by law to check incoming vessels for invasives. She says it’s unlikely any species could have survived a transition from Singapore to Alaska’s much colder waters.

She said last year Jim Webb, Furie Operating Alaska’s Senior Vice President, sent her samples of wildlife pulled off the Yost’s legs. Davis says she sent photos of those samples to a top invasive species scientist.

“Jim Carlton is sort of the preeminent invasive species taxonomist in the U.S,” said Davis. “And he felt very confident they were all tropical species and wouldn’t probably survive Alaska waters but especially if they were stressed by a period of dry docking.”

She said Furie claims they lifted the Yost above the water and let it sit in dry dock for even longer than the recommended 30-days.

And on top of that, she says the rig was also out of the water when it was towed to Alaska. Davis says Bruce Webb has offered to provide a record of the days the Yost was in dry dock and he has also offered to have a third party inspect the rig.

Kris Holderied is the Director of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Kasitsna Bay Laboratory.

She said Furie did a good job minimizing the chance of bringing organisms from Singapore. She agrees, if any did slip through they probably couldn’t survive in Alaska; but there’s no way to be sure unless you know the species, and the degrees of cold they can take.

“So even if they can live if they can’t reproduce they’re not going to be around that long to cause that much damage,” said Holderied. “And then two: even if they can reproduce, how we define invasive species is that they can basically take over a niche of an existing species.”

Holderied said how well exotic species compete with native species in Kachemak Bay will determine how invasive they might be.

“You could imagine that species that are sort of warm water species…there’s going to be a temperature at which they can no longer spawn, they can no longer reproduce. Then there’s going to be a lower temperature at which they couldn’t grow so well and then an even lower temperature at which they can’t survive,” said Holderied.

According to the website the average sea temperature off the coast of Singapore is 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Holderied said the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve usually records average water temperature in Kachemak Bay between 53 and 55 degrees. In the last couple of years she says, those temperatures have warmed to a range between 57 and 60 degrees.

Bob Shavelson said Kachemak Bay is already hurting from climate change related events and an introduction of invasive species would only make matters worse.

Quinton Chandler is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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