A press release from the Washington Sea Grant (WSG) last week announced another detected population of European green crabs, an infamous invasive species, near Sequim, Washington. Fortunately, the WSG Crab Team was on the spot to stymie the spread of this species before it gets out of hand. The Crab Team is an early detection and monitoring program put in place to impede and hopefully stop the spread of the invasive European green crab before it can infiltrate our Pacific Northwest ecosystem.
What’s wrong with the green crab? According to the WSG press release, the green crab has been implicated in devastating sea grass beds and decreasing shellfish harvests in places where populations have become established, such as Australia, South Africa, and the East Coast of the United States. An invasive species is one that competes with a native species for food and resources, and while some species (like humans) are presumably evolved enough to adapt to such changes in their environments, introducing change to the delicate balance of a marine ecosystem can be deadly. The WSG Crab Team is on a mission to detect and address the threat of the European green crab before it can populate local waters and potentially damage local marine life and shorelines.
European green crabs have been found in two other known locations in Washington’s inland waters; however with a tally of 13 total captured, the population at Dungeness Spit is currently the most abundant. The crabs were first discovered on San Juan Island in August 2016, then at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve near Anacortes. According to Crab Team Program Coordinator Emily Grason, the population at Dungeness Spit has more potential for growth, as multiple crabs have been found at the same site over subsequent days. This differs from the other locations, where the crabs were discovered too far from each other to meet and mate.
What can you do to help? If you’re a frequent beachcomber but don’t want to commit to anything serious, just keep an eye out at the beach. If you find a green crab, take a few pictures from various angles and report the sighting to the Crab Team. Don’t touch or move the crab, as this is illegal in Washington unless you obtain a special permit to do so. For those who want a little more involvement, you can sign up to volunteer with the Crab Team on their website, wsg.washington.edu.